A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘religion

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • James Bow mourns the loss of the Northlander train route connecting northern Ontario with the south.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes a Saudi Arabian announcement that it will be boosting military spending by 20%.
  • The Financial Times‘ The World blog notes growing Brazilian confidence in the outcome of the World Cup.
  • At A Fistful of Euros, Alex Harrowell notes the complexities of governance and procedure in the European Parliament.
  • Language Hat notes the long and changing history of ethnic identity in the Crimean peninsula.
  • Language Log’s Victor Mair notes from first-hand experience the complex language and script situation in Macau and Hong Kong.
  • The New APPS Blog features suggestions for institutional reform in the European Union.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer notes that, to ingratiate itself with the European Union, Albania won’t accept transit fees for the impending Trans-Adriatic pipeline.
  • Spacing Toronto remembers the time when Toronto’s subway network was the best in North America.
  • Strange Maps’ Frank Jacobs notes how a steamship disaster helped erase the Manhattan neighbourhood of Little Germany from the map of New York City.
  • Torontoist fact-checks an Olivia Chow speech, finding it boringly accurate and unambitious.
  • Towleroad notes how a Dutch town proposed setting up a gay ghetto to call out local homophobia.
  • Window on Eurasia notes how Ukrainian Orthodox Christian leaders are rejecting the Russian church’s authority, and observes that the Ukrainian government is now demanding that ethnic Ukrainians in Russia receive good treatment as an ethnic minority.

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • blogTO notes that the Global Village Backpackers building on the northeast corner of King and Spadina is up for sale.
  • Centauri Dreams and the Planetary Society Blog both comment on the almost last-minute search by the Hubble space telescope for Kuiper belt objects to be targets for the New Horizons probe after it passes Pluto.
  • Crooked Timber’s Corey Robin speculates that the alleged boredom of Obama in office might be taken as a marker for imminent revolutionary sentiment.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes that the protoplanetary disk of protostar IRAS 16293-2422 is composed of two segments, both rotating in opposite directions.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money approves of Mattherw Yglesias’ argument that some wars, like a proposed intervention in Iraq, are unwinnable.
  • Marginal Revolution has more on the court decision against Argentina for the benefit of its creditors.
  • Registan describes what the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is doing in Pakistan. (Putting down roots.)
  • Savage Minds features a post by a pair of anthropologists advocating that the discipline take part in a boycott of Israel.
  • Torontoist profiles the #parkdalelove Twitter campaign mounted after Mammoliti’s ridiculous statements.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy reports on a lawsuit by a convert to the church that converted him, alleging that because they publicized his conversion from Islam contrary to his request his life was threatened in Syria.
  • Window on Eurasia suggests that Russia annexed Crimea because it thought alternative separatist movements in Ukraine were budding.

[LINK] “An Afterlife for Europe’s Disused Places of Worship”

Sharing Christine Bohlen’s article in The New York Times about disused places of worship in Europe on Facebook, I said that in Toronto the tendency seems to be to turn these places into condos. This Little Italy church, for instance, has long since made the transition.

A church gone condo in Little Italy

That’s not something that can be done with every church, in Toronto, in Europe, and elsewhere. What can be done with often beautiful buildings which can no longer serve their original purpose? Some people in Europe are trying to answer this question in an organized fashion.

When a church closes its doors, it is a sad day for its parishioners. When it is slated for demolition, it is a sad day for the larger community, as Lilian Grootswagers realized in 2005 when she and her neighbors in the small Dutch village of Kaatsheuvel learned that St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church was due to be torn down and replaced by a four-story apartment block.

Leaping into action, Ms. Grootswagers started a petition drive, collecting 3,250 signatures, almost one-quarter of the village’s population, and sought help on a national level. As it turned out, St. Jozefkerk, built in 1933 as the centerpiece of an unusual architectural ensemble, was eligible to be on a register of historic buildings.

Today, nine years after it held its last Mass, the church is still standing, empty but awaiting its next incarnation. Its rescue was a victory for a widening effort across Europe to preserve religious buildings in the face of rapid secularization and dwindling public resources.

Begun as a grass-roots movement in 2009, the Future for Religious Heritage took shape in 2011 as a network of groups from more than 30 countries, dedicated to finding ways to keep churches, synagogues and other religious buildings open, if not for services, then for other uses.

But making the transition from places of worship to some other purpose is a tricky one, which necessarily involves not only community support, but also managerial skills. “You can only manage a building if it has income,” said Leena Seim, executive officer of the Future for Religious Heritage, which has an office in Brussels.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 3, 2014 at 8:44 pm

[BLOG] Some Sunday links

  • James Bow wishes he had better choices in the Ontario election than to vote for the least bad party.
  • Centauri Dreams shares an essay by Cameron Smith examining cultural evolution on long-duration interstellar missions, like generation starships.
  • Crooked Timber continues its symposium on the ethics of immigration, arguing in favour of open borders.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes that streaks on Martian dune slopes might be ephemeral sheets of water.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the continuing devastation of Louisiana by the side-effects of the oil industry.
  • Marginal Revolution notes that the cap-and-trade economics of the carbon market are spreading throughout the United States.
  • The New APPS Blog wonders if the boredom plausibly associated with immortality could be dealt with by a short memory–the goldfish solution, as the blog calls it.
  • Peter Rukavina shares a lovely example of his printing, a short passage of Jack Layton’s final address to Canada.
  • The Russian Demographics blog wonders what will happen to HIV in Crimea now that it’s part of Russia.
  • Torontoist notes that the New Democratic Party promises many lovely things for Toronto if it wins the Ontario elections but doesn’t describe how it would pay for it all.
  • Towleroad notes that playing a gay man in the 1981 film Making Love destroyed his film career.
  • Window on Eurasia suggests that the anti-terrorist campaign in eastern Ukraine is much less bloody than Russian campaigns in the North Caucasus, and notes that the Russian Orthodox Church isn’t quite on side (losing Ukraine would hurt it).

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • blogTO has a visual history of the Toronto Islands up.
  • Centauri Dreams looks at GU Piscium b and Beta Pictoris b.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to a paper examining two concepts for theoretical nuclear fusion-fueled space drives, one using additional coolant and one not.
  • Eastern Approaches examines the disastrous floods in the former Yugoslavia.
  • Joe. My. God. reports on a study suggesting church attendance is exaggerated by traditional self-reporting methods.
  • Language Log notes the success in the digitization of ancient Persian manuscripts, including of a bilingual Persian/Gujarati Zoroastrian text.
  • Registan notes the influence of the Internet and social media in reshaping Islam in Uzbekistan.
  • Savage Minds features a post by Nick Seaver talking about the ways in which anthropology can get involved with computer-mediated processes, like the algorithms which recommend tunes.
  • Towleroad examines Dolly Parton as a gay icon.
  • Window on Eurasia notes Russian academic disinterest in Ukrainian culture and covers the Crimean Tatars’ commemoration of their deportation in the context of Russian occupation.

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • Centauri Dreams reports that an astronomy project is set to begin to look for planets around Proxima Centauri, the third red dwarf component of the Alpha Centauri system, via eclipses of the star.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze reports on a bright superjovian in a distant orbit around young red dwarf GU Pisces.
  • The Dragon’s Tale links to a paper suggesting that Earth-like worlds can remain broadly habitable without stabilizing moons like ours.
  • Geocurrents’ Martin Lewis engages with Wikipedia maps of the world by religion.
  • Language Log’s Julie Sedivy engages with an interesting new app for speed reading.
  • Marginal Revolution notes that apparently Cornwall and Wales are poorer than some new European Union member-states. Proof of European convergence as much as of British disparities?
  • At the Planetary Society Blog, Marc Rayman explains how the Dawn probe will slowly decelerate into orbit about Ceres next year.
  • Towleroad quotes from Monica Lewinsky’s new Vanity Fair feature, explaining her empathy with victims of bullying like Tyler Clementi.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy links to an apparent Russian government report claiming, contra public statements, that there was only 30% turnout in the referendum on attaching Crimea to Russia and only 15% supporting the notion.
  • Window on Eurasia links to an author arguing that the Ukrainian crisis has destabilized Putin’s schedule for Eurasian integration.

[NEWS] Some Friday links

  • 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

  • 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

(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”

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

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