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Posts Tagged ‘christianity

[BLOG] Some Monday links

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  • Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait evaluates a video of a skydiver almost hit by a meteroroid and finds it plausible.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper suggesting that we don’t know which processes lead to stars and which to brown dwarfs.
  • Language Log’s Mark Liberman notes interesting gendered pronoun usage in a new science fiction novel.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money is not sympathetic towards Brandon Eich and argues that multicultural accomodation isn’t inherently irrational.
  • Marginal Revolution seems to have grudging respect for Michael Lewis’ new book Flash Boys.
  • Towleroad notes the recent statement of Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Church of England, that embracing same-sex marriage could inadvertently lead to the persecution and murder of Christians around in the world, particularly in Africa. (One finds one’s allies where one can.
  • At Window on Eurasia, note is made of various arguments: one argues that Russian national identity is synthetic and assimilatory; another argues that, given Ukrainian public opinion, Russia’s only prospects for further expansion lie in force; still another takes note of Eurasianist threats against Azerbaijan.

[NEWS] Some Friday links

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  • Al Ahram notes that, as Ukraine is starting to turn towards the European Union, Russia is doubling down on its Eurasian Union project.
  • Al Jazeera notes that the Russian Orthodox Church is more skeptical of the costs of Crimea’s annexation than the Russian state, for fear of losing followers in Ukraine.
  • The Atlantic Cities commemorated the brief return of Major League Baseball to Montréal a decade after the Expos’ death with a Toronto Blue Jays away game, shares pictures of London’s first cat cafe, and maps imbalances in supply and demand in New York City’s popular but troubled bike share program.
  • Bloomberg notes how IKEA’s dreams for expansion in Ukraine were undermined by corruption.
  • Bloomberg BusinessWeek chronicles falling Japanese stock prices, warns that Russia is becoming a junior partner of China, and notes the threats facing Ukrainian agriculture.
  • CNET examines the story behind the iconic Windows XP photo “Bliss”.
  • Global Voices Online hints, by way of a recent quitting, that Ukrainians might be disenchanted with Russian-owned Livejournal.
  • The Guardian notes that the Australian city of Darwin is a military garrison par excellence, and observes that Bulgaria has derived some benefit from the Greek economic collapse as businesses have migrated north.
  • MacLean’s suggests that Ukraine can be anchored ittno the West if it can experience Polish-style prosperity.
  • National Geographic News takes another look at the proposed Nicaragua Canal project.
  • Radio Free Europe notes that a Russian plan to institute fast-tract citizenship procedures for professionals has sparked fears of brain drain in Central Asia, observes the effects that currency devaluation has had on immigrants in Kazakhstan, and comments that Afghanistan’s support for Russia’s annexation of Crimea has much to do with Afghanistan’s long-standing irredentism aimed at Pakistan.

[LINK] Some Monday links

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  • Crooked Timber’s Henry Farrell is skeptical of Josh Marshall’s new journalism site featuring paid advertisements from Big Pharma.
  • The Dragon’s Tales’ Will Baird provides another update about Ukrainian events.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that World Vision Canada, unlike its American counterpart, is legally required not to discriminate against non-heterosexuals.
  • Language Hat links to a study on the formerly Russophone Alaskan community of Ninilchik.
  • Language Log suggests that handwriting is a dying art in East Asia, too.
  • Marginal Revolution links to a book on maritime conflicts in the South China Sea.
  • The Signal features a guest post from two librarians working for the Library of Congress explaining how they do their work.
  • Savage Minds explains the myth of the sexy librarian.
  • Torontoist has two photos memorializing recently-closed stores, one from the World’s Biggest Bookstore and the other from Sears in the Eaton Centre.

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

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(A few minutes late, yes, I know.)

  • Centauri Dreams notes that the imaging of exoplanet Beta Pictoris b means great things for the future of exoplanet searches.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes that now, we have the technology to search for true Earth analogues at Alpha Centauri.
  • The Dragon’s Tales observes that Scotland’s offshore islands–the Shetlands, the Orkneys, the Western Isles–are now starting to examine their options for self-governance.
  • Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times‘s The World Blog notes that the shocking mass death sentences issued to more than five hundred people in Egypt augurs nothing good about justice in that country.
  • Geocurrents notes that all kinds of separatisms, among Russophone populations in the former Soviet Union and among Russian autonomous republics, have been galvanized by Crimea.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that an anti-gay coalition is no longer holding its conference in Russia, on account of Crimea.
  • Language Hat links to the Calvery Journal, an online journal of Russian-language culture.
  • The New APPS Blog’s Jason Reed writes about how highly uninspired budget cutting at the University of Southern Maine reflects a “particular hollowness” in the heart of the university.
  • Window on Eurasia suggests that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would begin no later than mid-May, notes the prominence of evangelical Christians in the Ukrainian government, and worries about Crimean Tatar prospects inside Russia.

[LINK] Two links on American concepts of “religious freedom”

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In question-and-answer format, the Volokh Conspiracy’s Eugene Volokh introduces readers–in my case and many others, non-Americans–to the minutiae of American religious freedom law as currently being debated in connection to health care and GLBT rights.

1. What’s with religious people getting exemptions? I thought the Supreme Court said that wasn’t required. For most of American history, courts generally didn’t see the Free Exercise Clause as requiring exemptions for religious objectors. But in Sherbert v. Verner (1963), the Supreme Court said that such exemptions were presumptively required, unless the government could show that denying the exemption was necessary to serve a compelling government interest.

Then, in Employment Division v. Smith (1990), the Supreme Court changed its mind, by a 5-to-4 vote. The Free Exercise Clause, the court held, basically just banned intentional discrimination against a particular religion or religious people generally. With a few exceptions (such as for churches’ decisions about choosing their clergy), religious objectors had to follow the same laws as everyone else, at least unless the legislature specifically created a religious exemption.

The lineup in that ruling, by the way, was interesting: conservative Justice Antonin Scalia joined by conservative Justice William Rehnquist, moderate conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy, moderate Justice Byron White, and moderate liberal Justice John Paul Stevens voted for the nondiscrimination rule. Moderate conservative Justice Sandra Day O’Connor — joined by liberal Justices William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall and Harry Blackmun — disagreed, and wanted to preserve the Sherbert constitutional exemption regime.

But wait. Congress didn’t agree with Smith, and so it enacted — by a nearly unanimous vote — the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which gave religious objectors a statutory right to exemptions (again, unless the government could show that denying the exemption was necessary to serve a compelling government interest). In City of Boerne v. Flores (1997), the court said this exceeded congressional power over the states, but RFRA — pronounced “riffra” — remains in effect for the federal government.

Moreover, since 1990, 17 states enacted similar “state RFRAs” that government state and local governments. One state (Alabama) enacted a constitutional amendment that did the same. Eleven states’ courts interpreted their state constitutions’ religious freedom clauses as following the 1963-1990 Sherbert model. And one state’s high court (in New York) interpreted the state constitution as applying a less protective religious exemption regime, somewhere between the old Sherbert approach and the Smith approach.

At the Everyday Sociology Blog, meanwhile, Jonathan Wynn takes a look at religious freedom arguments from the sociological perspective.

Laws that protect sincerely held religious beliefs may make sense at first glance, but it’s quite an interesting sociological puzzle as to what this phrase means, and how that should play out in a civil society where there are lots of divergent belief systems. The law is unclear on the matter (and the 1993 law, by the way, has an interesting history).

From a Durkheimian perspective, an incursion of the religious into the public sphere is somewhat inevitable, since religious beliefs must also correspond with actual social activity. As he wrote in chapter one of The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, religion is a “unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things” and there is no religion without a church. This is to say that there are no sincerely held beliefs without corresponding actions. (Elementary Forms concludes with a reference to struggles between religious beliefs and science, foreshadowing the Scopes Monkey Trial of the 1920s and the recent Bill Nye vs. Creationism debate; the U.S. Supreme Court will listen to arguments against the Affordable Care Act on March 25th, 2014.)

The question is over what religious freedom allows citizens to do. Religion can give a moral warrant for all sorts of things. The Hobby Lobby’s owner, for example, wrote a much talked about 2012 op-ed in the USA Today coming out against providing comprehensive preventative care for women claiming he has the right to run his businesses upon the tenets of his Christian values. Hobby Lobby is, in fact, closed on Sundays as per the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:8-11) but it is doubtful they would support putting a child to death for cursing his mother or father, or an adult for adultery. Few would argue that these sincerely held religious beliefs—as listed in the Bible’s rulebook, Leviticus (20:9; 20:10)—should be accepted one and all. Strongly held beliefs are, of course, selective.

Which brings us back to A.J. Jacobs, who tried harder than most to follow those sincerely held beliefs both commonly held (e.g., love thy neighbor as yourself, Mark 12:31) and the less followed (e.g., not wearing clothes of mixed fibers, Leviticus 19:19). He tried as many of the lessons from the good book as possible. At one point he walked around Manhattan with pebbles in his pocket to stealthily stone blasphemers. It’s a pretty entertaining read.

But there aren’t too many of us who live as biblically as possible these days. The central pivot of Durkheim’s first major work, 1893’s The Division of Labor in Society, is that as societies move from a more primitive state to a modern one, the religious influence on the collective conscience wanes and new forms of solidarity based on mutual reliance upon each other waxes.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 25, 2014 at 3:59 am

[BLOG] Some Saturday links

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  • Centauri Dreams examines a close-encounter solar probe.
  • Writing at The Dragon’s Tales, Will Baird has advice for Ukraine’s future. (Integrate into the EU, get Western help, avoid conflict in Crimea.)
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes that signs of oxygen in a planetary atmosphere alone aren’t sure signs of life.
  • Far Outliers notes that the dense jungle of Melanesia’s island of New Britain was a great equalizer in combat.
  • Geocurrents’ Asya Perelstvaig has it with sloppy journalism in connections between Siberian and North American languages.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that at least some evangelical Christians are accepting that Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church is dead since it might make their own homophobia seem better.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money corrects a hostile Crooked Timber post on Katy Perry.
  • pollotenchegg maps population change in Ukraine by province since independence. The west and centre experienced stability, even growth; the rest of the country, well.
  • Torontoist profiles an interesting-sounding mural commemorating Japanese history in Canada and Toronto on Queen Street West.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy introduces readers to Erik Jager’s Blood Royal, a reconstruction of a medieval murder investigation in Paris.
  • Window on Eurasia argues that Russia now lacks the European option of Ukraine.

[BRIEF NOTE] On different religions and irreligions, in Germany and France and the world

Deutsche Welle had an interesting article up, “Ghanaian pastor seeks to ‘re-Christianize’ Germany”. An evangelical Christian is trying to convert Germans but finding little success beyond the immigrant sector.

In just a decade, the number of evangelical Christians in Germany has doubled – and Ghana-born evangelical Rev. Edmund Sackey Brown has grand plans to ride this new wave. In 2011 he purchased a former Edeka supermarket in Mülheim an der Ruhr, in the heartland of Germany’s industrial region, and converted it into an evangelical house of worship: The House of Solution.

He is convinced that within 10 years his 600-member congregation, comprised mostly of African immigrants from the surrounding areas, will swell to 5,000. He has pledged his commitment on the number plate of his Mercedes “MH FJ 5000″ (Mülheim for Jesus 5000). “Centuries ago, Europeans came to Africa with the word of God. But these days Europe is a godless center. It needs redeeming,” says Sackey Brown, “My mission is to re-Christianize Europe.”

According to Sackey Brown’s vision, Christianity’s sweeping re-embrace of Europe will not come from an increase in African immigration, but from first-generation African-Germans spreading the word of God to their peers. “Hope is with the new generation. They can be disciples of God,” he says. But the children of African immigrants are a minority group within a minority group – hardly the catalyst for a near-future boom – and the fact that the church’s weekly youth service has been scaled back to every other week is a signal that things are not going to plan.

[. . .]

German-born Jan Sickinger, now the coordinator for community outreach programs at The House of Solution, is the son of a Protestant pastor. As he came of age, he grew wary of Protestantism’s increasingly “liberal social theology” and craved a closer connection to the Gospel. So he found salvation as a born-again believer, married an African evangelical and started working at

Despite handing out thousands of advertising pamphlets and organizing expensive stage productions in the city center, Sickinger has struggled to bring outsiders to the church. “I don’t think there’s any church in Germany that is actually growing at the moment,” he says, defending his own church’s sagging numbers more than lamenting the larger situation in Germany. “I mean, the first German missions to Africa and South America didn’t change things overnight.”

But in the greater historical context, The House of Solution’s plan for radical growth in just 10 years is ambitious. Other German evangelical churches, however, are enjoying steady growth. Though evangelicals account for only about 3 percent of the German population, they are an relatively devout group; the number of those who attend church regularly is comparable with the Protestants, one of Germany’s two major faith groups, together with Catholics.

This reminded me of a 2005 post where I noted that evangelical Christianity in France tended to be dominated by immigrants, whether from the French Caribbean or eastern Europe or elsewhere.

Territory like this has been explored elsewhere, by Philip Jenkins among other scholars. I’m skeptical as to whether or not missionary endeavours in multiethnic societies will actually take off. Different religions, and irreligions (non-practice of a dominant religion is not the same as practising nothing), can plausibly survive for quite some time.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 19, 2014 at 2:59 am

[PHOTO] St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church, Rustico

St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church, located in the north shore community of South Rustico perhaps a quarter-hour’s drive east of Cavendish, is of considerable note architecturally and historically. Not only is it one of the oldest churches in Prince Edward Island, but it has traditionally been a focus for the Island’s Acadian community; Rustico is one of the major centres. Located just a minute east are the sandstone building of the Farmer’s Bank of Rustico and the vintage wood Doucet House, dating back to 1768.

See Sally Cole’s December 2013 article in the Charlottetown Guardian for a brief rundown of events planned in 2014.

St. Augustine's Roman Catholic Church (1)

St. Augustine's Roman Catholic Church (2)

St. Augustine's Roman Catholic Church (3)

St. Augustine's Roman Catholic Church (4)

St. Augustine's Roman Catholic Church (5)

St. Augustine's Roman Catholic Church (6)

Written by Randy McDonald

February 17, 2014 at 1:19 am

[PHOTO] Angus Bernard MacEachern, bishop, remembered at St. Dunstan’s Basilica

Angus Bernard MacEachern, bishop, remembered at St. Dunstan's Basilica (1)

Erected quite recently on the property of St. Dunstan’s Basilica, on the southwest corner of Great George Street and Sydney, is a monument to Angus Bernard MacEachern, the first Roman Catholic bishop on Prince Edward Island.

Scottish by birth, from his arrival in Atlantic Canada in 1790 MacEachern played a leading role in building the Roman Catholic Church in the British Atlantic colonies, a community fragmented by ethnicity as well as by geography. His death in 1835 left an institutionally strong church, one of its legacies being the St. Dunstan’s University that eventually evolved into the modern University of Prince Edward Island. Based on his legacy, many locals would recommend him for sainthood.

(See yesterday’s photo post to get a better sense of the setting of the monument.)

Angus Bernard MacEachern, bishop, remembered at St. Dunstan's Basilica (2)

The plaque for Bishop MacEachern’s monument has the below passage in four languages: English, French, Scots Gaelic, and Mi’kmaq.

“Angus Bernard MacEachern (1759-1835), first Bishop of the Diocese of Charlottetown, founded St. Andrew’s College, the first post-secondary institution in the colony, on 30 November 1831. In January 1855, the college was re-located and re-opened in Charlottetown as St. Dunstan’s College (later University), which has carried on the rich tradition of Roman Catholic education in the province.”

[PHOTO] St. Dunstan’s Basilica, Charlottetown

St. Dunstan's Basilica, Charlottetown (1)

The spires of St. Dunstan’s Basilica, located squarely in the centre of downtown Charlottetown on Great George Street, are visible throughout the downtown area. The basilica of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlottetown, St. Dunstan’s is the core of Island Catholicism.

St. Dunstan's Basilica, Charlottetown (2)

St. Dunstan's Basilica, Charlottetown (3)

St. Dunstan's Basilica, Charlottetown (4)

Written by Randy McDonald

February 9, 2014 at 9:58 pm


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