Occupying Wall Street religiously

What do the OWS demonstrations have to do with religion? Over at the Scoop, Lee Gilmore notes the rather modest role traditional religious representation has played thus far, and decides that the most active presence has been neo-pagan. My son Ezra, a newspaperman who has just set out to cover the demonstrations nationwide–check out his blog, America, Occupied–found a transcendentalist spirituality on the ground in (where else?) Boston.No doubt, the motives and rationales of OWS run a wide gamut; hell, it’s all about letting anyone who shows up have a say at the general assembly. But the movement’s signature expression–the extended, 24-7 encampment–is best thought of not in terms of a political rally but as a religious vigil. The relatively small number of occupiers are bearing witness for the community at large to what they see as societal injustice.

At Virginia Tech

I’m at Virginia Tech to participate in a symposium on the Judeo-Christian tradition and yesterday had a chance to visit the memorial erected to the victims of the April 16, 2007 massacre perpetrated on campus by Seung-Hui Cho, a mentally disturbed student. The memorial sits at the head of the the Drillfield, the large open space so named because VT has long been a military school, now counting some 1,000 cadets among its undergraduates. There’s are 300-pound gray dolomite “Hokiestones” for each victim, arranged in a semi-circle, some with pebbles on top that have been left by visitors in a custom most familiar from Jewish cemeteries.I picked up the pamphlet describing the memorial featuring photos and brief bios of the 32 who died, accompanied by “We Remember Them,” a poem identified as coming from Gates of Prayer. That’s the new Reform Jewish prayer book, and the poem turns out to have been written by Rabbi Roland B. Gittelsohn, who was the first Jewish chaplain to serve in the Marine Corps, and who became famous for ministering to the troops at Iwo Jipril, the university celebrates Jewish Awareness Month. It seems that the Judeo-Christian tradition is alive and well in Blacksburg.

A New Pledge of Allegiance?

I was discussing the history of the Pledge of Allegiance in my class on religion and the media today, and was astonished to learn that some of my students–one from Santa Barbara, others from upstate New York–had been accustomed to recite the Pledge in public school with the words “under all” replacing “under God.” As in: “one nation, under all, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”Under all what? All gods, goddesses and beliefs, as one blog comment I found puts it? Or, self-referentially, the same “all” that liberty and justice is for? Howsoever, if this is indeed happening in school districts across the U.S., it would appear that some teachers or administrators or school boards have quietly (I can’t find any news coverage) decided that–as Michael Newdow argued before the Supreme Court–“under God” is an unconstitutional establishment of religion that they want no part of.

How not to pray at Ground Zero

The usual suspects plus some unusual ones are unhappy with Mayor Bloomberg’s decision to conduct the 10th anniversary commemoration ceremonies at Ground Zero without benefit of clergy, and at first blush, the decision is a little hard to comprehend. After all, these days Americans do tend to solemnize such occasions with some sort of joint religious exercise.On second blush, however, the mayor is simply insisting on sticking close to the ritual that was established 10 years ago and continued ever since: a reading of the names of the victims with moments of silence for attendees to fill with whatever thoughts or prayers they may have. This approach seems to sit well with the victims’ families as well as with leading religious figures in New York, such as Archbishop Timothy Dolan and Rabbi Joseph Potasnik of the New York Board of Rabbis.But let’s try a third blush–one that provides formal religion for those that want it, without imposing it on those that don’t. Let’s hark back, in other words, to the way New Englanders used to remember the fallen on Memorial Day.In “An American Sacred Ceremony,” anthropologist W. Lloyd Warner’s classic account published six decades ago, Memorial Day in “Yankeetown”–Newburyport, Mass.–began with members of the different religious bodies attending services in their own houses of worship; then forming a parade and marching together to the town’s main cemetery, where separate ceremonies were performed; then reforming the parade with a final collective salute, and heading back to town. As Warner summed it up:Here we see people who are Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Greek Orthodox involved in a common ritual in a graveyard with their common dead.

The Religious Newt

Amy Sullivan, may her blog posts increase, has a fine one up on Swampland explaining why the Gingrichian outreach to evangelicals is likely to go nowhere. Among other things, the guy seems incapable of showing remorse (read: repentance) for his well-known sins (ah, those adulteries), and unaware that evangelicals really like to be told your conversion story.But, you say, Newt ain’t no evangelical; he made his conversion to Roman Catholicism two years ago. True enough, but if he’s acquired some Catholic chops on his faith journey, he’s keeping them well hidden. In his public utterances, there’s nothing but the usual conservative sloganeering about the importance of faith and the dangers of secularism. Actually, it’s worse than that.

Hating on the Judeo-Christian Tradition

Over at Religion Dispatches, Shalom Goldman is the latest Jewish writer to try to kill off “the Judeo-Christian tradition.” Inspired by a new “Judeo-Christian Voter Guide,” he resuscitates the claim that the phrase does little more than paper over the long history of Jewish-Christian animosity, subordinating Jewish distinctiveness to ecumenical public relations. In a study published over a quarter-century ago, I traced this claim as far back as 1943, but its prime exponent has been the late author and publisher Arthur A. Cohen, whose 1969 Commentary article, “The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition” (redone in his 1970 essay collection of the same title) blacklisted the term, at least in certain circles. The article, which Goldman persists in calling “brilliant,” is a piece of agit-prop that fundamentally misconstrues how the JCT came into common usage. Goldman doesn’t do much better.Cohen asserted that the tradition “as such” originated among the German higher critics of the Bible, whose aim was to “de-Judaize” Christianity even as they acknowledged its Jewish roots.

Schönborn v. Sodano

It is a rare thing when one Catholic cardinal publicly attacks another. The most famous example occurred in the middle of the 11th century, when Humbert of Silva Candida bitterly criticized Peter Damian for claiming that bishops who had purchased their offices were still valid bishops. The saintly (later sainted) Damian was one of the circle of papal reformers who strongly opposed simony, but he was unwilling to evoke the chaos that would have ensued if half the bishops in Europe (and all the priests they had ordained) had been kicked out of their jobs. Humbert was the kind of intellectual radical whose unwillingness to compromise helped bring about Rome’s permanent split with Eastern Orthodoxy. Now comes Christoph Schönborn, the cardinal archbishop of Vienna, accusing  Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals and former Vatican secretary of state, of having blocked the Vatican’s inquiry into sex abuse allegations against
the late, disgraced cardinal of Vienna, Hans Hermann Groer.

Glendon on Cicero

Mary Ann Glendon’s fulsome appreciation of Cicero in the current issue of First Things is one lawyer/public figure’s tribute to her most distinguished predecessor, but given Glendon’s own involvement with issues of religion in public life–and the main preoccupation of the magazine she’s writing for–it’s curious that she didn’t manage, in nearly 4,000 words, to say anything about Cicero’s view of religion. Well, maybe not so curious.That view was purely instrumental. Like his friend Marcus T. Varro, Cicero admired Numa Pompilius, the mythic second king of Rome, for having invented religious practices that civilized the thuggish warriors who had founded the city. Famously, he served as an augur even as he wrote a tract demonstrating that augury was nonsense. He did not believe in the gods, or at least denied that they could be shown to exist, and thought private religious practices were not for serious men of affairs.

Civil Religion at Fort Hood

From the president’s remarks:It may be hard to comprehend the twisted logic that led to this
tragedy. But this much we do know – no faith justifies these murderous
and craven acts; no just and loving God looks upon them with favor. And
for what he has done, we know that the killer will be met with justice
– in this world, and the next…We are a nation of laws whose commitment to justice is so enduring
that we would treat a gunman and give him due process, just as surely
as we will see that he pays for his crimes. We are a nation that guarantees the freedom to worship as one
chooses. And instead of claiming God for our side, we remember
Lincoln’s words, and always pray to be on the side of God.That seems pretty good as these things go, but I wish Obama would abandon his use of that fake Lincoln quote about praying to be on God’s side.

Camp (David) Meeting

Amy Sullivan has the scoop on the Obamas’ choice of church: Camp David’s Evergreen Chapel. A politic move, and probably a wise one: Not only do the Obamas seem to want to be together as a family at Camp David whenever possible (so where else go to church?), but it was going to be a circus if they chose any D.C. congregation.  What is Evergreen Chapel? Amy calls it a “non-demonational church,” which is not quite accurate. It’s a non-sectarian chapel, built with private funds raised by a planning committee of clergy from different faiths, and dedicated in 1991. The non-sectarian aspect of the place did not come without a struggle, as recounted by James Rudin, the rabbi who served on the committee in his capacity as the American Jewish Committee’s director of interreligious affairs.