Wednesday, April 29, 2009
The rural city of roughly 60,000 is home to many different religions, but the local Jewish synagogue has been recruiting Jewish families, offering the incentive of up to $50,000 for relocation after seeing several residents leave the area. The Jewish community developed in Dothan after Jewish peddlers came to the area and eventually settled in the early 20th century. Now, the synagogue hosts 54 families in its congregation. Since the 1970s, families and younger members of the community have been leaving Dothan to pursue better economic interests elsewhere and to find a "dynamic Jewish community."
At face value, the project would look as though the community wants to maximize its social capital; however, one of the prerequisites for becoming a contributing member is Judaism.
The relocation program involves interviews, background checks and requires that families stay at least five years to keep the full compensation. Because the relocation program seeks to not only bolster the Jewish community, but also to alter the demographics of the city, the situation could potentially alter the ways in which the town operates. In a region of the country where White Protestant Christianity has historically dominated the culture and influenced policy-making, a change in demographic specifically based on faith could challenge the perceived status-quo of the majority religion. The situation also addresses how a dominant religion can establish itself in the political realm when like-minded people come together and form a community.
The Mayor Pat Thomas claims that the relocation program seeks to add families to the community who will contribute to the overall social dynamic and that dynamic happens to also be a part of the Jewish faith.
"This is recruiting quality families who are going to add to this community, and that's the aim of the Jewish community and synagogue right now. That's also our aim as well."
If the program is successful, the town will provide an interesting look on how religion permeates through local politics and community programs. Christianity has enjoyed the success of influencing all levels of government in the United States for over 200 years, now, in an increasingly pluralistic religious society, let's see what another faith can do to establish itself in policy-making.
"Governor Paterson is saying that gay marraige is a recognition of gays and lesbians as people deserving full human rights. And thus if you vote that way now you would have to admit that you were wrong when you voted against gay rights before. Hence to avoid the guilt, you continue to oppose gay marraige.
He’s not talking about the hard core bigots in this case but rather people who are on the fence but unwilling to make the leap becuase of the guilt they would have to acknowledge about their past attitudes and actions (or inactions)."
In a way, Governor Paterson is making a similar point to Martin Luther King Jr. in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail" when he talks about the real problem with the Civil Rights Movement, and that is the white moderates choosing not to do anything and rather stand on the sidelines and wait for something to happen with time. He talks about how their refusal to support the Civil Rights Movement, even if it was not to oppose it, was very detrimental to the movement because they had a lot of power and a lot of influence in society among the whites and their stance could have changed the public opinion. Similarly, the Governor is addressing the "moderates" in this case , or those whose personal beliefs are torn between what their religious institutions have been telling them and their personal moral values, or if their opinions have changed as they have personally become more tolerant on the topic of gay marriage. In a way, he is addressing the topic of guilt and the possibility of it being a reason of these moderates who are personally on a fence on this issue to not be in favor of gay marriage so that they will not feel ashamed and express their views freely if their opinions have changed from being against gay marriage to being pro gay marriage. I think this is intention of the Governor, although he does have a hard time getting his point across.
Link to the article: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/28/paterson-on-guilt-and-gay-marriage/?scp=7&sq=religion&st=cse
Van Biema reports that the number of classes involving the academic use of the Bible are slowly increasing in the United States. Teachers and Supreme Court judges are steadily learning that there is a difference in "teaching religion" and "teaching about religion." While controvery still exist (and probably always will exist) in having the Bible in the classroom, Van Biema claims it needs to be because it its historical importance and influence on many Americans' lives. Of course, he writes, the key is make sure that all religious text and faiths are taught equally; if not one can find establishment within the school and a violation of the First Amendment. Of course, some teachers are not prepared to teaching religion and many groups from the secularist to the religious fundamentalist fear that the teacher will misrepersent or promote one text over the other. Hence one of many reasons why the movement is only slowly growing instead of steadily.
As a future high school social studies teacher, I feel the Bible and other religious text have a proper and necessary place in the schools. In the global age we live in, it is ignorant and unprofessional for an educator not to teach these text that have such an impact on our lives. I understand the legal hoops and roadblocks that hinder the education of these topics, but separation religion and faith from American life is very hard to do. If the role of an educator is the create informed citizens ready for the world, then a basicaly knowledge of the major world religions, their text, beliefs, history, etc are all vital to this process. The courts and school boards must find a way to get around what some might consider unconstitutional and make it so that students can obtain the knowledge that has been absent from the classroom for too long.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
The office of HHS, especially during this critical point in our nation, should not be the focus of partisan political attacks. Gov. Sebelius' record in Kansas is one of honor and integrity. According to statistics released from her office, the number of abortions in Kansas declined 12.6 from 2001 to 2007 under the Governors watch. This is due in large part to an aggressive health care reform package instituted by the Governor that included ""adoption incentives, extended health services for pregnant women..., sex education and... a variety of support services for families."
I can understand why opponents of abortion would begin to attack Governor Sebelius for her own personal stance on abortion (although the Governor is a devout Catholic). But it makes no sense to drag a religious oppositional stance into the national dialogue. The facts show that Gov. Sebelius has done almost everything in her power to decrease the number of abortions in her own state, while abortions around the country declined at a substantial percent as well. It seems that the tired argument against abortion is running its course as the national percentage of abortions takes a downswing and the increase in sexual education and adoption programs increase. Perhaps now we as a country can move past the bitter partisan divide that locks our country into red and blue. The Department of HHS is not just about abortions, it's about protecting our American society from pandemics, disease, and educating our people about the dangers of unwanted pregnancy and unsafe sex. Governor Sebelius represents all that's good about healthcare reform. The religious right and Americans as a whole should stand with our new Secretary of Health and Human Services and begin to look past the partisan divide.
The article America is Not a Christian Nation featured on Salon.com is an extremely thought provoking and creates the potential controversial debate and discussion surrounding the role of Christianity in American politics. Although written with a clear liberal bias, the article argues that the United States is not and never has been a nation founded on Christian principles, as many religious citizens and conservatives claim. On a trip to Turkey, President Obama said that the United States is not a Christian nation, thoroughly inflaming religious conservatives. In support of Obama's statement, the author, Michael Lind, cites the writings and speeches of George Washington, the Treaty of Tripoli, John Tyler, and others in making his case that America is not truly a Christian nation. The part of the argument I found most insightful was his analysis of the influence of John Locke on American political tradition and origins of natural rights theory and social contracts. Lind argues that although US politics was very much influenced by Lockean theory, he claims that Locke generated his ideas from non Christian Greek thinkers predating Plato and Aristotle.
I think that this article is extremely important considering the increasing plurality of American society. Labeling the United States as a Christian nation divides the population and makes legitimate citizens who may not practice Christianity feel like outsiders in their homeland. Although the article is obviously biased, it provides accurate information about some aspects of the relationship between Christianity and American politics. It will be interesting to see if there is any further discussion about Obama's comment or the perceived decrease in Christian influences.
Goodstein also writes about how atheists are attempting to improve their public image. Herb Silverman, the founder of the Secular Humanist of the Low Country, compares going public as an atheist with the gay rights movement, and that someone who openly states they are an atheist has “come out of the closet.” As more atheist surface it will create a whole new “religious” group which will have a significant impact on American politics. Many atheists, according to the article, became upset with the way George Bush supported the religious right.
As a result the atheists have attempted to become more unified. By doing this they can begin lobbying in Washington in attempt to gain influence in political decisions. They hope to promote separation of church and state. Already they have seen relative success, as shown by President Obama’s inauguration speech in which he mentioned non believers. However, with their success it is more than likely this will create a situation in which mainline protestants and other Christian groups will attempt to unite together in order to negate the influence gained by atheists. So while there is optimism for atheists in politics, they still have a significant uphill battle.
The article uses Ingrid Case, an Episcopalian turned Quaker, as a case study to highlight the rather startling fact that over half of American adults have changed religion at least once in their lives. Gregory Smith, a researcher at the Pew Forum puts this down to the religious "free market" that exists in America, by which various denominations can cater - both theologically and otherwise - towards their niche target audience. The study indicates that more than 4 in 10 American adults are no longer members of the religion that they were brought up in as children.
But what is most interesting about the study is that it argues that "some factors that might be expected to drive people away from religion -- such as sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, or a belief that science 'disproves' religion -- actually play a very small role". The study seems to show that the moving between denominations and faiths is a more gradual change, rather than "carefully considered, conscious decision-making".
First of all, I find it astounding that a person's decision to change their faith is not based on careful consideration and conscious decision making. I realize that for many religious believers their faith is based on personal experience and emotion rather than simply the raw intellectual arguments for the truth claims of a specific religion, but surely there must be intellectual backing for those considering changing their faith?
Secondly, while the number of people who were raised Catholic and then became Protestant is 5%, the number of people raised protestant who have switched to a different protestant denomination is a staggering 15%.
There seem to be 2 options for this. First, evangelical Christians are realizing that science does indeed disprove the literal biblical story of 6 day creation and a young earth model, and are therefore moving towards mainline protestantism. Second, many mainline protestants are becoming unhappy with the more liberal tendencies of their church and are moving towards the more traditional, conservative branches of evangelical protestantism.
Certainly the data from the Trinity College survey would indicate that the second is the most likely. Perhaps this does indeed prove that "not all of this is the product of carefully considered, conscious decision-making" after all.
The Christian Right is commonly portrayed in the liberal media as the antithesis of secular democracy. With Bible-toting evangelizers, protesters with pictures of aborted fetuses, and political leaders who often cite Bible verses, the Christian Right does not seem like a force for liberal democratic virtues, some writers outside the conservative camp disagree though.
I came across an article about a student from Brown University who spent a semester undercover at Liberty University, Jerry Falwell’s conservative Christian college, in order to write a book about his experience. The author, Kevin Roose, produced a story about “rigorously normal” students in a setting where he expected to find "hostile ideologues who spent all their time plotting abortion clinic protests and sewing Hillary Clinton voodoo dolls." While the Chancellor of LU, Jerry Falwell Jr., said, “We appreciate Kevin's generally positive tone toward LU but he admittedly comes from a culture that has very little tolerance for conservative Christianity and even less understanding of it,” the book still paints a surprisingly positive and normal view of a supposed conservative Christian training camp.
This article got me wondering whether there are other sources of praise for the Christian Right coming from a leftist perspective. I found an article in the NY Times reviewing a book by Jon A. Shields, Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College, titled “The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right.” This book argues that “Many Christian-right organizations […] have helped create a more participatory democracy by successfully mobilizing conservative evangelicals, one of the most politically alienated constituencies in 20th-century America.” The article explains that in his experience in training seminars for many Christian Right organizations the instructions given were: “Remain civil. Engage others in conversation by inquiring into their viewpoints. Eschew arguments based on religion or the Bible in favor of facts and reasoning that might persuade people regardless of their religious convictions.” He also argues that while there are many “radical” Christian activists these people are not the “representative figures that coverage in the news media often suggests.”
These books may be representative of the increasing involvement of Christian conservatives in the workings of politics above the level of purely social issues. As they realize the need to break the stigma of religious zealots, Christian conservatives need more support from the left such as these works by authors in the academia.
The article states that many people leave their religions at a young age, usually before 24. This makes sense since many people at that age are students in university settings and are exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking. The actual reasons for leaving differ for each person. Roman Catholics, for example, leave because they don’t agree with church doctrine. Young people may leave because they don’t agree with the church’s official position on abortion; clergy may leave because of the requirements of celibacy. Protestants, on the other hand, tend to leave because of “life changes” like moving, getting married, or sometimes because they don’t agree with church doctrine either.
Unsurprisingly, the article states that the “unaffiliated” is the fastest growing group in the past two decades. Some members of the unaffiliated group stopped going to church because they felt that religion was too “hypocritical.” One woman sought spirituality in her life and was disinterested in religion because it was “man-mad dogma.”
Despite all this, there are still individuals who seek religion in their lives because they seek community or spiritual fulfillment.
The Catholic church lost the most members and the Protestant Church is on the verge of losing more members. Immigration is a major reason why the number of Catholic church members is still relatively high and it’s also one of the reasons why Protestants are not the major religious group in the US anymore.
These statistics show that the US is still fluctuating religiously and that religious groups in this country are continuing to expand over the years. I definitely believe immigration will continue to shape religion in the US. More minority religions will emerge as a direct result of immigration, and Protestantism will no longer be the majority religious group. The numbers prove that more and more Americans are looking for unaffiliated or independent churches for spiritual guidance and I think the rates are only going to increase in the coming years. As for religion in the US, it’s obvious that religion will always be an important element in our American culture and will continue to shape the way we identify ourselves as a people.
Monday, April 27, 2009
On April 26, 2009 the New York Times published an article titled More Atheists Shout It From the Rooftops. In this article, author Laurie Goodstein describes the increase in the number of atheists, agnostics, and non-believers in Charleston, South Carolina. In February of this year, the local atheist organization put up a billboard reading, “Don’t Believe in God? You Are Not Alone.” Instead of receiving hate mail, the organization was overwhelmed with the positive reaction they received from large numbers of atheists, agnostics, and non-believers in the area. The article revolves around the increase in the number of atheists in American society and raises the question of what this means for the future of religion and politics.
I agree with the author that Obama’s recognition of non-believers in his inaugural address has the potential to be an important turning point in the perception of atheists, agnostics, and non-believers. It was the first time a President of the United States made reference to the value of non-believers. It is also important because, as the author cites, polls show non-believers are ranked lower than any other minority or religious group when Americans are asked whether they would vote for or approve of their child marrying a member of that group. An important tactic that Goodstein cites for the possible success and growth of non-believers is their adoption of a similar strategy to the gay rights movement. Goodstein explains that by relating non-believers going public with their beliefs to homosexuals coming out of the closet, non-believers will come out in mass support.
The implications of Goodstein’s article are very interesting. Even though the growth in number of non-believers still is not very large, I believe it has the potential to represent a drastic change in the relationship between religion and politics. Political parties will need to compete for the atheist vote if their numbers continue to grow and this has the potential to completely change the current relationship between religious groups and political parties, specifically the relationship between evangelicals and the Republican party. I think the New York Times article makes people question the future of religion and politics.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
NC House Bill 88 is designed to give parents the opportunity to choose what type of public school sex education their children receive. It will not eliminate the abstinence-only track, it will simply add another track focused more on promoting risk management and healthy, safe behaviors.
Not surprisingly, lobbies of the far right are outraged by the concept that parents should be able to choose this. But let’s be honest, according to a poll on publichealthreports.org, 75% of Americans had premarital sex by age 20 and 95% had rounded the bases out of wedlock by age 40. While the NC Family Policy Council, a group with a predominantly White Evangelical Protestant membership who uses affiliated pastors as its prime method of gaining grassroots support, attempts to provide a statistical and secular reasoning for its vehement opposition to the bill, the fact is that they see recognizing the prevalence of premarital sex as an acceptant of sin. While I am fairly conservative on most issues, I also tend to be reasonable, and to me the idea of promoting a policy that is bad for our children so that a few religious folks can have a clean conscience about their promotion (or lack thereof) of sin seems selfish at best.
Now, a word on abstinence-only sex-ed from a former NC public school kid. In elementary school, we learned about the necessary body parts in a unit on “Human Growth and Development” that parents could opt their children out of. It was awkward, uncomfortable, and, given the fact that they didn’t tell us what to do with the parts we now knew so much about, pretty pointless for the kids with no prior knowledge. To this day, I have literally never been told by the Wake Count Public School System the necessary procedures for producing a child. Somehow, my parents knew (I assume there is a correlation between this knowledge and the fact that I even exist) and they were kind enough fill me in.
Fast-forward to 8th grade. We had a unit on STDs and the merits of remaining abstinent until marriage. This enlightening day of science class was conducted by our more or less incompetent guidance counselor. After she told us about “the slifalifalus,” “ghonnarear,” and “the HIV/AIDS,” we were reminded to stay “abstinence” until marriage. The STD education that was designed to serve me for the rest of my life came from a woman who could not conjugate the verb ‘abstain.’ I really wish I was making this up and I am infuriated by the fact that her salary is paid by hard-earned tax dollars.
The reality of this is that my fellow students and I were pathetically underserved by NC public school policies, which is probably why there were 5 pregnant girls in my high school and countless others who had dropped out to take care of their kids. At our football games, our record-setting 19 year-old running back would be cheered on by his two children.
The NC Family Policy Council, in continuing to support an abstinence-only program that obviously doesn’t address the needs of our students, is simply ignorant. While I can appreciate their desire to obey the religious and traditional ideal of abstinence until marriage, this policy stands in contradiction to serious issues of public health and education. In their policy briefing, they point out that NC schools have a zero-tolerance policy toward tobacco, drugs, alcohol, and firearms, and argue that premarital sex should be on that list. Let’s examine the distinction between the aforementioned vices. Tobacco is unhealthy no matter how you use it, drugs and alcohol are illegal for the relevant underage population, and the issue of firearms is pretty self-explanatory. Sex is not necessarily unhealthy and is (in most situations) perfectly legal.
The only valid point that the NC Family Policy Council makes is that 7th grade is too early for children involved in the safe-sex track to be educated on contraceptive options and their respective uses. Ultimately, North Carolina needs to put an end to religiously motivated policy decisions and instead actually focus on what is best for our children, even at a slightly increased cost. House Bill 88 leaves the issue up to the parents so that they can choose whichever style they feel is appropriate. This education will make kids safer and smarter, not destroy the sanctity of marriage because, as studies show, 95% of us already manage to do that on our own.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Hours before President Barack Obama prepared to take office on Jan. 20, 2009, the Bush administration put a new law into effect allowing healthcare workers to refuse patients certain procedures and information on the grounds of religious or moral objection. The new Provider Refusal Rule expanded on the “conscience clause” of a 30-year-old law that had been in place to protect healthcare providers declining to perform abortions. The new law allows healthcare workers “from doctors to janitors” to withhold “services, information or advice” from patients on family planning, contraception, blood transfusions or other procedures they may find morally contentious.
The Provider Refusal Rule, however, may be short-lived.
According to a Reuter’s report, the Obama administration formally announced its plans to rescind the law in February, but is still in the process of reviewing the regulation. Repealing the law would be good news for many health organizations, like the American Medical Association, that believe healthcare professionals have an obligation—regardless of their personal views— to advise their patients of all health options available to them.
Not everyone has been happy about the new administration’s announcement, however. Criticism has come from the religious and medical communities alike. According to a Catholic News Service article, forty doctors, physician assistants, pharmacists, nurses and other healthcare professionals held a joint press conference at the National Press Club on April 8 denouncing the Department of Health and Human Services’ plans to undo the conscience regulation.
The press conference was hosted by Freedom2Care, a coalition of 36 medical and secular organizations “dedicated to protecting conscience rights.” Freedom2Care, along with the Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life political women’s organization, launched a campaign to file 36,000 complaints against the Obama administration’s repeal. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Committee for a Human Life Amendment filed another 35,000 comments against the repeal.
Criticism has also come from within the Obama administration.
A letter submitted to HHS by Nathan Diament from the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations included the signatures of four members on Obama’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnership Advisory Council, including Sojourners president Jim Wallis,
As the media and political debates continue, the question still holds: can healthcare professionals have a conscience under the law? Critics of the repeal argue that getting rid of the Provider Refusal Rule would jeopardize healthcare providers’ right to practice their profession while staying true to their moral convictions, and would therefore, violate their First Amendment right to free exercise of religion. Critics of the rule, however, say that the conscience regulation as it stands sanctions denying patients services they may want or need. They further argue that accepting or declining certain procedures or health options should be left to the conscience of the patient, not the doctor. In the end, the debate on whether or not to rescind the Provider Refusal Rule seems to be pitting patient rights against healthcare provider rights. The debate is also a broader one of religion and politics. Does the government have the right to tell physicians and nurses to drop their consciences at the hospital door? If not, does the government still have a responsibility to ensure that physicians are transparent with patients about all options open to them?
It seems to me that the government does not have the right to dictate doctor conscience, but patients should also be informed if certain information about their health is being withheld from them. Strikingly a balance between the two, however, has proven difficult. So as the revision of the Provider Refusal Rule moves forward, the Obama administration will continue to stand in the middle of an ongoing tug-of-war between the right to know and the right not to tell, the right to care and the right to conscience, the responsibility to the patient and the responsibility to the doctor. In the end, whether the administration decides to repeal or reaffirm this new conscience regulation, it is unlikely that the heated debates over provider conscience will be simmering down anytime in the near future.
Related CNN video: "Healthcare's moral debate"
Thursday, April 23, 2009
This morning the state senate of Connecticut voted to allow same sex couples to get married after a decade long struggle. This decision was met with the usual religious backlash, however, this case stands out for it allows religious institution to choose whether they participate. Therefore, churches are not required to "provide services, goods, or facilities for same sex wedding ceremonies."
Religiously affiliated persons against same sex marriage, although not completely content with the decision, have stated that this makes the situation a little better.
However, the decision was made in order to give the same sex couples full rights, and move past civil unions, so the question stands: are they really receiving full rights if the church is allowed to pick and choose its position?
I think what will be interesting about this case is that it will force individual religious clergy to make decisions for themselves rather than hiding behind the church and the law. No longer can religious leaders in Connecticut use the excuse that its not legal, and as a result, many will have to choose their personal stance, as well as that of their denominations on the issue.
The implications on the gay rights movement are significant, for it could mean that churches will consciously and willingly show their support, something that has rarely been seen in the past.
Is it really giving same sex couples full rights if the church can choose not to participate?