A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘religion

[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

[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] The Dunes Gallery: Bird on a Buddha

The Dunes Gallery: Bird on a Buddha

I wish that I had a sharper picture of this corvid–probably a crow–neatly perched on top of a Buddha statue’s head, but this is the sharpest of the several I got.

The photo opportunity was obvious: a crow, representative of a group of birds not only known for their wisdom in folklore and myth but actually proven by modern science to be quite remarkably intelligent, sitting neatly on the top of an icon from a religion known for wise contemplation?

Now if only I could think of a cute line of meme-worthy text to superimpose on the image. Any suggestions?

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • The Dragon’s Tales links to a private proposal for the ESA to launch
  • The Everyday Sociology Blog’s Peter Kaufman finds sociology and mindfulness meditation quite compatible.
  • Far Outliers takes a look at the instability of the post-Ottoman Arab kingdoms of the Middle East.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that AIDS denialists are trying to shut down YouTube commentary on their ideas by claiming copyright on videos referenced in these commentaries.
  • Marginal Revolution notes that Spain is now partaking in the European Union-wide market for health care services.
  • Personal Reflections’ Jim Belshaw observes that, perhaps contrary stereotypes, his Australian region of New England had a very large Chinese population.
  • J. Otto Pohl notes how the social geography of Accra, Ghana’s capital, has changed and not changed over time.
  • The Planetary Society Blog features a guest post from Bill Dunford talking of various missions sent to our sun.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy announces a week of posts on the position of sharia law in the United States.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that Ukrainian Orthodox (Kyiv Patriarchate) as well as Ukrainian Catholics are opposed to Russia, and quotes statistics (the high number of .ru-registered websites outside of Russia, the high Kazakh birth rate, conspiracy theories about Ukraine) which suggest things might be problematic for Russia.

[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

[BLOG] Some Saturday links

  • Centauri Dreams has a guest post from Jason Wright talking about using infrared telescopes to pick up waste heat from extraterrestrial civilizations.
  • Cody Delistraty opposes a boycott of the Sochi Olympics, notwithstanding Russia’s human rights issues, on the grounds that the Olympics have essentially no relationship to whatever country is hosting them at the present.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to reports on plans for a future united Africa.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze reports that apparently close-orbiting binaries–stars within 20 AU of each other, like Alpha Centauri–are bad for planetary formation, and comments on the discovery of brown dwarfs near multiple stars including fabled Gliese 581.
  • Eastern Approaches reports on the disarray at Sochi.
  • Amitai Etzioni argues that the United States and China should be clear on their red lines regarding Taiwan.
  • Far Outliers reports on the United States’ constitution of an intelligence service from nothing in the First World War.
  • Language Hat notes a proposal to give Russian official status in Austria-Hungary to defuse pan-Slavism, and observes how language clues within the Bible give hints as to authorship.
  • Language Log notes the creative use of different scripts and languages in Taiwanese product advertising.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the role of Sochi in the final suppression and expulsion of the Circassians by the Russian Empire.
  • Marginal Revolution notes the huge economic problems of Puerto Rico: shrinking economy, emigrating workforce, growing debt … The disinterest of young Germans in apprenticeships is also noted.
  • The Planetary Society Blog’s Emily Lakdawalla reports that the world can’t communicate with the returning ICE/ISEE3 probe because it no longer has the technology to do so.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer argues that Argentine currency controls which make imports increasingly unaffordable are soon going to have to fail.
  • Discover‘s Seriously Science notes a study claiming that fish can use tools.
  • Steve Munro quite dislikes false savings on TTC expenditures claimed by, most recently, the Toronto Star.
  • Understanding Society’s Daniel Little takes a look at social science takes on the Chinese revolution, examining first Lucien Bianco’s early study then Theda Skocpol’s comparative study contrasting French and Russian revolutions.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that the rise of Islam is the North Caucasus is partly a consequence of Arab-funded global networks, comments on the role of Crimean Tatars in keeping Crimea for Ukraine, notes that some Russians would like to start revising borders across the post-Soviet region, and observes that many Russians are surprisingly OK with Finland’s Second World War leader Mannerheim.
  • Zero Geography notes a paper commenting on uneven geographies of user-generated content.

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • James Bow really likes the new Hunger Games movie, Catching Fire. One thing he thinks it does very well is show people caught up in an oppressive system.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes that the European Space Agency is facing huge cost overruns with its Ariane 6 rocket.
  • io9 shares a chart showing the top 20 metropolitan areas of the United States over time.
  • Joe. My. God. observes that seniors who have been staking out tables at a McDonald’s in New York City as a place to socialize have agreed to be more considerate.
  • Language Log’s Victor Mair comments upon a picture of a Taiwanese subway advertisement that makes use of three different scripts.
  • Marginal Revolution’s Tyler Cowen likes Will Wilkinson’s argument about how liberalism is ultimately incompatible with the security state.
  • Registan guest blogger Dillorom Abdulloeva writes about domestic violence in Uzbekistan.
  • Steve Munro has an open thread about the different ways to travel between Toronto and New York City. What’s quickest?
  • Supernova Condensate examines the concept of superhabitable planets.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy’s Ilya Somin argues (after others) that immigration can be a way for people to exercise political freedom, by leaving unjust states.
  • Torontoist examines a report on youth violence.
  • Towleroad shares the news of the new Spanish cardinal, who thinks that homosexuality is a medically correctible defect.
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