(RNS) Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann is facing a flood of criticism for suggesting, perhaps in jest, that God sent Hurricane Irene and the East Coast earthquake to jolt Washington into changing its spendthrift ways. “I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians,” the Minnesota Republican said Sunday (Aug. 28) at a campaign rally in Florida. “We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, `Are you going to start listening to me here?”‘ Bachmann’s campaign said her remarks were wisecracks, not prophecy.
(RNS) New York-area residents are more spiritually active since 9/11, a new survey shows, but the uptick in faith may be a matter of coincidence rather than a religious response to the terrorist attacks. The Barna Group found that 46 percent of people living in or near New York City reported attending worship services in the previous week in 2010, up from 31 percent in 2000. However, the upward trend didn’t kick in until after 2004, said David Kinnaman, Barna’s president. “The research suggests that faith and religion took on new urgency for many New Yorkers after 9/11, but the impact was neither immediate nor long-lived,” said Kinnaman. “While …
So, Irene was kind of a bust, at least for those of us here in the mid-Atlantic. But BU’s Stephen Prothero makes an interesting point: If modern science allows us to know exactly when and where a hurricane is going to hit, does that diminish our view of God, or at least tame our view of God who was once seen to send messages or inflict punishment through Mother Nature? For her part, Michele Bachmann thinks Irene was a divine bulletin for politicians, and Glenn Beck thought it was a “blessing from God” and a reminder to stockpile supplies. Meanwhile, coming out of the weekend, it looks like most of the news out there can be filed away under C for “Catholic” : From the Dept. of Well That Didn’t Take Very Long, B16 is sending Archbishop Edwin O’Brien to a post in Rome after just four short years as archbishop of Baltimore; O’Brien will take over for another American, the cancer-stricken Cardinal John Foley, as head of a group devoted to advocating for Christians in the Middle East.
(RNS) When Hurricane Katrina roared ashore six years ago, it brought in its wake untold property damage and emotional distress to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, but also something deeper. “Where,” countless people asked, “was God?” Some conservative religious leaders warned that Katrina was a divine rebuke for abortion or perhaps a warning from God that the U.S. still hadn’t taken enough precautions to prepare for a terrorist attack. For William Mackintosh, a retired Presbyterian pastor who survived the exodus from and return to New Orleans, God played an active role throughout the disaster, but was not punishing America. In his recent book, “Katrina: Where Was God?”
WASHINGTON (RNS) An earthquake and a hurricane may have interrupted plans to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the nation’s capital but religious leaders and civil rights veterans on Saturday (Aug. 27) said King’s legacy is unshakable. The interfaith service was the last official event to mark the dedication of the new King memorial on the National Mall after Hurricane Irene caused officials to postpone Sunday’s official dedication. “If Martin Luther King was anything else, he was an obedient servant of the Lord,” said King’s daughter, the Rev. Bernice King, who was 5 when her father became a modern-day martyr in the fight for civil rights. “He often did things not because it was popular, not because it was expedient.
NEW YORK (RNS) Observant Jews are permitted to sidestep traditional Sabbath rules on electronics and listen to the radio as Hurricane Irene bears down on the East Coast, according to guidelines distributed to hundreds of Orthodox rabbis. Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future, distributed special hurricane guidelines — which he originally wrote while working in hurricane-prone Florida — to the school’s rabbinic alumni. Observant Jews’ Sabbath rules typically prohibit turning on and off electrical appliances and carrying items outdoors unless there is a ritual enclosure called an eruv. The protocols instruct Jews to leave a TV or radio turned on in a side room, but not to change the channel. A radio’s volume may be adjusted on Shabbat, as long as the radio isn’t digital, Brander said.
(RNS) A small number of conservative foundations are propelling a handful of anti-Islamic activists who are fueling rising levels of Islamophobia, according to a report issued Friday (Aug. 26) by the left-leaning Center for American Progress. The 130-page report identifies seven conservative funders who between 2001 and 2009 gave $42.6 million to eight anti-Islamic causes, most of them headed by individuals who critics say form an organized network. The report is the latest among recent reports by CNN, The New York Times and The Tennessean that scrutinize these organizations. Authors of the CAP report hope the public pressure will persuade donors to stop funding these groups.
Happy Friday, my little chickadees. Lots of chatter on the Interwebs today about New York Times executive editor Bill Keller’s column on religion and the 2012 presidential campaign. Folks on the right seem to be particularly peeved that he’s only asking questions of GOP candidates. The Jesuits deride the column’s tone. Not to be outdone, religion beat veteran Jeffrey Weiss (Lo, how I miss the DMN religion blog) has his own column on why it’s legit to ask Mitt Romney questions about Mormonism.
(RNS) In September 2001, Sam Harris was an unknown doctoral student who didn’t believe in God. But after the World Trade Center crumbled on 9/11, he put his studies aside to write a book that became an instant best-seller — and changed the way atheists, and perhaps Muslims, are perceived in this country. Published in 2004, Harris’s “The End of Faith” launched the so-called “New Atheist” movement, a make-no-apologies ideology that maintains that religion is not just flawed, but evil, and must be rejected. In the book, Harris frequently uses the image of a Muslim suicide bomber to highlight the dangers of religion, depicting Islam as a “cult of death” and a “machinery of intolerance and suicidal grandiosity.” Within two years, Harris was joined on the best-seller list by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett, who all took religion to task for most — if not all — of the world’s ills.
(RNS) Fasting during Ramadan may be harder for Muslims in countries where they are a minority, but a new survey said Muslims in America and other countries tried to give it their best effort. The study, by the New Jersey-based DinarStandard website that tracks business trends among Muslims, and British-based Productive Muslim Ltd., found similar levels of commitment around the world, even as conditions vary widely. Across the globe, three in four Muslim workers say they try to maintain the same level of productivity during Ramadan, a holy month of prayer and fasting that concludes on Monday (Aug. 29). In Muslim-majority countries, 74 percent of Muslims said their employers made accommodations for Muslim workers during Ramadan, compared to 48 percent of respondents in countries where they are in the minority.
CLEVELAND (RNS) Hundreds of United Methodists are meeting in Huron, Ohio, this week in an uphill bid to make their 12 million-member denomination more gay-friendly. Activists are gearing up for next year’s General Conference meeting in Tampa, Fla., where they plan to fight once again to change the church’s official position that homosexual activity is a sin. Unlike other mainline Protestant denominations in the United States that have moved to allow openly gay clergy and bless same-sex unions, United Methodists prohibit sexually active gay clergy and blessing same-sex unions. “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible to Christian teaching,” reads a section in the Methodists’ Book of Discipline. But the nearly 700 people expected to attend the four-day conference at Sawmill Creek Resort that opened Thursday (Aug.
(RNS) An Illinois college affiliated with the United Church of Christ is poised to become the first school in the U.S. to ask prospective students about their sexual orientation. Elmhurst College, located just west of Chicago, said the decision to add sexual orientation to the 2012-13 applications is entirely optional and is aimed at promoting diversity on campus. “We ask a lot of question in admissions, so we thought, why not ask about this, too?” Dean of Admissions Gary Rold told The Chronicle of Higher Education. “We are trying to recruit students who are academically qualified and diverse, and we consider this another form of diversity.”
The upcoming 9/11 anniversary continues to generate religion-themed stories. First off is a hat tip to The Associated Press investigation showing that in the wake of Sept. 11, the New York Police Department became “one of the nation’s most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies” in targeting mosques and Muslim neighborhoods. The NYPD did so with the help of the CIA, which raises constitutional questions, among other things. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and civil liberties groups want an investigation – presumably not one led by Long Island Rep. Peter King.
(RNS) When All Saints Church sought to signal its hospitality to gays and lesbians, the Catholic parish in Syracuse, N.Y., turned to a well-known image from the 9/11 attacks: five firefighters carrying a body from the wreckage of the World Trade Center. The body belonged to the Rev. Mychal Judge, a Franciscan fire chaplain who rushed to the burning buildings and was killed by falling debris. Later, a half-hidden secret emerged about the gallant priest: he was gay. All Saints hopes the statue will demonstrate that the parish, following Judge’s lead, is committed to closing the chasms between rich and poor, black and white, gay and straight, said the Rev. Fred Daley, the church’s pastor. Moreover, Daley said, the monument will memorialize a man who, like many gays and lesbians, struggled to fit into a church that considers homosexual desires “an intrinsic moral evil” and seeks to prohibit gay men from becoming priests.