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“Bernie Sanders And The God Factor”: Less A Matter Of Sanders’s Own Behavior Than That Of His Most Avid Supporters

The “S-word” — socialist — hangs over Bernie Sanders’s campaign like a spectral question mark. His self-identification as a “democratic socialist” is a matter of indifference to most supporters — especially the young — and even to many conservatives who assume all Democrats are socialist these days (remember the weird effort at the RNC a few years back to insist on labeling the opposition the “Democrat Socialist Party”?). But it’s certainly a new thing historically in a country where socialism never really caught on as a mainstream ideological tradition.

While Sanders is asked about the S-word regularly, another first he would represent has not really come into focus: his religious identity. He would definitely be the first Jewish president (or major-party presidential nominee), using the standard ethnic definition of that term. But he might also be the least religious president. Are either of these a real problem for his candidacy?

That question was posed in the Washington Post on Wednesday in an extensive article that quotes Sanders as confessing a rather vague belief in some sort of deity but no connection to organized religion. During his upbringing in Brooklyn by parents who immigrated from Poland, his Jewishness was “just as uncontested as saying you’re an American,” according to his older brother, who also recalls himself and Bernie listening to World Series games outside a synagogue where his father was attending Yom Kippur services. His first wife was from a similar background, while his second was raised Catholic.

According to public-opinion research, Sanders’s Jewish background shouldn’t be much of an issue. According to a Gallup survey in 2012, 91 percent of Americans (up from 46 percent when Gallup first asked this question in 1937) say they would vote for a Jewish president. Only 54 percent would vote for an atheist, however. So for Christians and Jews, at least (Muslims are another matter), having a religious affiliation is better than spurning God altogether.

That’s a good example of American exceptionalism. Just as center-left parties and leaders in Europe have no problem calling themselves “socialists,” the religious affiliation of politicians is not terribly significant. Last year Ed Miliband led the British Labour Party into a general election. That he was a professed atheist (like many if not most Labour politicians) from a Jewish background wasn’t an issue. In sharp contrast to American standards, Tony Blair’s religiosity was something of an oddity in the U.K.

So it could be that Sanders’s Jewish-socialist background and nonreligious identity represents a combo platter of associations that just don’t seem terribly American, at least to older swing voters (it is assumed that conservatives would reject Sanders on so many separate grounds that religion would hardly stand out).

Sanders is probably dealing with it as best he can by expressing sympathy with religious motives for political action, and most of all by not exhibiting that allergy to religion that besets a lot of highly secular people, including the kind of activists who are heavily represented in his base of support. That was probably the real value of his startling appearance at Liberty University last year. He didn’t make many conversions to his brand of politics. But he showed he did not consider himself as coming from a different moral universe from people with an entirely religious frame of reference. And interestingly, a new Pew survey shows that Sanders is perceived as more religious than the Republican candidate currently leading among conservative Evangelicals, Donald Trump, and roughly equal in this respect to the pious Methodist Hillary Clinton.

There may be a temptation in the Sanders camp to compare him to Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, who were great presidents not identified with any organized religious group (the former claim is a bit off since Jefferson, for all his heterodoxy, was an Anglican vestryman). But that could be a false analogy, since Jefferson was strongly interested in religious speculation and polemics (with his own highly expurgated version of the New Testament), while Lincoln’s rhetoric and thinking were saturated in a sort of nondenominational folk piety.

Perhaps the smartest tactic for Sanders is to remain authentic and more generally stress his distinctively American credentials. Every time he says with great frustration that he wants this country to “join the rest of the world” in providing health care as a right or in offering some other commonsense benefit, he simply reinforces the impression that his values are exotic and perhaps even suspect.

For the kind of Americans who administer religious litmus tests, there’s nothing Sanders can or should do. Many conservative Evangelicals and some traditionalist Catholics, after all, deny Barack Obama’s Christianity, and some deny fellowship with liberal Christians generally. It’s not an honest standard, as was made evident in 2004 when the occasional churchgoer George W. Bush inspired great passion among conservative Evangelicals via various verbal tics and dog whistles, while the very regular Mass-goer John Kerry was regarded as a bloodless, faithless liberal elitist.

But for people of faith who do want to find common ground with Bernie Sanders and the movement he represents, it’s important that he doesn’t view religious motivations for social action as cheap imitations of the real thing or silly superstitions that real grown-ups have overcome. This may be less a matter of Sanders’s own behavior than that of his most avid supporters, who sometimes strike others as a mite superior. While God may rightly have no formal place in Bernie Sanders’s world, he needs to find a place for God’s followers among his own.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, January 27, 2016

January 28, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Religious Beliefs | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Gradual De-Christianization Of This Country”: America Is Becoming Exceptional Religiously, Not Exceptionally Religious

It’s always good for Americans to be reminded that the rest of the world is a great big place that isn’t always congruent with our own assumptions about the way things should be. So a new Pew survey on global religious affiliations, projected to 2050, is interesting in no small part because the United States is a bit of an outlier–or if you prefer, “exceptional.”

Here are the big toplines about what the world is expected to look like in 2050:

* The number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians around the world.

* Atheists, agnostics and other people who do not affiliate with any religion – though increasing in countries such as the United States and France – will make up a declining share of the world’s total population.

* The global Buddhist population will be about the same size it was in 2010, while the Hindu and Jewish populations will be larger than they are today.

* In Europe, Muslims will make up 10% of the overall population.

* India will retain a Hindu majority but also will have the largest Muslim population of any country in the world, surpassing Indonesia.

* In the United States, Christians will decline from more than three-quarters of the population in 2010 to two-thirds in 2050, and Judaism will no longer be the largest non-Christian religion. Muslims will be more numerous in the U.S. than people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion.

* Four out of every 10 Christians in the world will live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Those who have been excited about the rise of the religiously unaffiliated in America–particularly among young people–may be pleased at the projections about the gradual de-Christianization of this country. But it’s not a global trend. And the unaffiliated are projected to have the smallest percentage growth of children in their ranks between now and 2050 of any religious category, so the growth vectors will depend entirely on rising net “conversions” from conventional religions. One reason that’s not a lively prospect is that the Asian heartland of non-belief–especially China and Japan–has very low population growth projections, and the latter country is a big future target for the religious groups denied access to the Chinese under communism.

The Pew study most definitely represents bad news for Islamophobes, given the continued growth of that faith community via high fertility rates and a strong base in developing countries where large families remain the norm (that’s partially true of Christianity, at least in its new sub-Saharan hot spots).

In any event, while the United States is likely to remain the most religiously observant of advanced western democracies, its “exceptional” nature will also reflect a growing gap with a more religiously observant planet. Go figure.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 2, 2015

April 5, 2015 Posted by | American Exceptionalism, Islamophobia, Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Usually Seen As Isolated Psychopaths”: The Most Common Type Of American Terrorist Is A White Man With A Weapon And A Grudge

Yesterday, an outspoken white atheist murdered three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. We don’t yet know for sure whether this was a hate crime or whether the killer, Craig Stephen Hicks, had some other motivation; police have said the crime may have grown out of a dispute over parking. We do know that had Hicks been a Muslim and his victims atheists, few would be waiting for all the facts to come in before declaring him a terrorist. We know that there would be the usual calls for other Muslims to condemn the killings, coupled with the usual failure to take note of the many Muslims who did. And we know that demands for Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins to distance themselves from Hicks are largely facetious, because no one really blames them. Violence perpetrated by Muslims is almost always seen as part of a global conspiracy, whereas white men like Hicks are usually seen as isolated psychopaths.

There is, of course, some truth there. An organized jihadist movement exists; an organized cadre of terroristic atheists does not. Yet in the United States, Islamophobia has been a consistent motivator of violence. Hicks’s killing of Yusor Mohammad, her husband, Deah Shaddy Barakat, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, should not be treated like a man-bites-dog story, a reversal of the usual pattern of terrorism. After all, Muslims in the United States are more often the victims of ideological violence than the perpetrators of it.

According to the latest FBI statistics, there were more than 160 anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2013. Mosques and Islamic centers have been firebombed and vandalized; seven mosques were attacked during Ramadan alone in 2012. Several Muslims, or people thought to be Muslim, have been murdered or viciously attacked. In 2010, a white college student and self-described patriot tried to slash the throat of Bangladeshi cab driver Ahmed Sharif. The white supremacist who slaughtered six people in a Sikh temple in 2012 may have thought he was targeting Muslims. So, apparently, did Erika Menendez, the homeless New Yorker who pushed a man named Sunando Sen in front of a subway train that same year.

In most cases, the perpetrators have been disaffected, disaffiliated losers rather than part of any movement, but they’ve picked up broader currents of hatred and conspiracy theorizing. (The same can be said of some lone-wolf Muslim terrorists like Man Haron Monis, the fraudster and criminal who took hostages in Sydney last year, or the Tsarnaev brothers, who bombed the Boston marathon in 2013.) We don’t yet know if Hicks was driven by lonely fanaticism, but if he was, he’s not as much of an anomaly as he might at first appear. Explicitly atheist violence is unusual, but Hicks still fits the profile of the most common type of American terrorist: a white man with a weapon and a grudge.

 

By: Michelle Goldberg, The Nation, February 11, 2015

February 14, 2015 Posted by | Bigotry, Islamophobia, Terrorists | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Muslims, Marriage And Bigotry”: Our Capacity To “Otherize” People Of A Different Faith, Race, Nationality Or Sexuality

In North Carolina, three young Muslims who were active in charity work were murdered, allegedly by a man who identified as atheist and expressed hostility to Islam and other faiths. Police are exploring whether it was a hate crime, and it spurred a #MuslimLivesMatter campaign on Twitter.

And, in Alabama, we see judges refusing to approve marriages of any kind because then they would also have to approve same-sex marriages. In one poll conducted last year, some 59 percent of people in Alabama opposed gay marriage. Somehow a loving God is cited to bar loving couples from committing to each other.

These are very different news stories. But I wonder if a common lesson from both may be the importance of resisting bigotry, of combating the intolerance that can infect people of any faith — or of no faith.

I don’t think Muslims should feel obliged to apologize for the Charlie Hebdo terror attacks. Nor do I think atheists need apologize for the killing of the three Muslims.

But it does seem useful for everyone to reflect on our capacity to “otherize” people of a different faith, race, nationality or sexuality — and to turn that other-ness into a threat. That’s what the Islamic State does to us. And sometimes that’s what we do, too.

O.K. I’m sure some of you are protesting: That’s a false equivalency. True, there is a huge difference between burning someone alive and not granting a couple a marriage license. But, then again, it’s not much of a slogan to say, “We’re better than ISIS!”

There has been a pugnacious defensiveness among conservative Christians to any parallels between Christian overreach and Islamic overreach, as seen in the outraged reaction to President Obama’s acknowledgment at the National Prayer Breakfast this month that the West has plenty to regret as well. But Obama was exactly right: How can we ask Islamic leaders to confront extremism in their faith if we don’t acknowledge Christian extremism, from the Crusades to Srebrenica?

More broadly, one message of the New Testament is the value of focusing on one’s own mistakes rather than those of others. “You hypocrite,” Jesus says in Matthew 7:5. “First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

We could do with a little more of that spirit these days, at a time when everybody wants to practice ophthalmology on everyone else.

When I posted on my Facebook page about the North Carolina murders, one follower, Frank, wrote dismissively: “Muslims are slaughtering people around the globe (including their own) but let’s highlight this story — seems legit.”

I’ve previously urged Muslims to reflect on intolerance in their camp, and this is an occasion when Christians, atheists and others can do the same. Did the furor in North Carolina that led to the cancellation of the Muslim call to prayer from Duke University’s chapel tower inflame sentiments?

The Alabama legal drama, with Chief Justice Roy S. Moore of the State Supreme Court defying federal authorities, is, of course, different. But it also is redolent of faith as I-am-holier-than-thou chest-thumping, a reminder of the need for humility.

Do Judge Moore and other conservative Christians think that when God made gays and lesbians fall achingly in love with each other, He screwed up?

It seems odd to me that so many conservative Christians are obsessed with homosexuality, which Jesus never mentions, yet seem unworried about issues Jesus did emphasize like poverty and suffering. Jesus explicitly advised a wealthy man, “Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor” (Matthew 19:21), so maybe that’s the Scripture that Judge Moore should follow to demonstrate his piety.

Then there’s Jesus’s praise for those who make themselves eunuchs (Matthew 19:12); but I’d settle for a little “love thy neighbor as thyself.”

I’ve written often about committed and self-effacing Christians doing outstanding work combating injustice around the world, and it’s frustrating that they don’t get attention. The problem is that their heroism is often overshadowed by sanctimonious blowhards.

Among Americans aged 18 to 24, a 2012 survey found that half or more describe present-day Christianity as “hypocritical,” “judgmental” and “anti-gay.” And more regarded it as immoral to view pornography than to have sex with a person of the same gender. Alabama is, once again, on the wrong side of history.

Pope Francis has been a breath of fresh air to Catholics and non-Catholics alike because he seems less moralizing and more moral, less about pointing a finger and more about offering a helping hand. After the tragedy in North Carolina and the legal chaos in Alabama, maybe that’s a good instinct for all of us.

 

By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, February 13, 2015

February 14, 2015 Posted by | Bigotry, Christianity, Homophobia, Islamophobia | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Friend, This Was No ‘Parking’ Murder”: Contempt For What We Are And How We Look

Last week when I, along with 13 other Muslim Americans, met with President Obama at the White House, I explained my concern that given the recent rise in anti-Muslim bigotry, I feared that we could wake up one day to the news that someone had gone on a shooting spree targeting Muslim Americans.

Tragically, less than a week later, that very thing may have happened in North Carolina.

Yes, I know that we can’t be certain at this moment exactly why the gunman murdered three Muslim-American students—Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19—in cold blood. And true, the local police have noted that its “preliminary investigation indicates that the crime was motivated by an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking.

But I doubt very much that anti-Muslim hate didn’t play some role in this attack. I say that based on a few factors. One is my conversation with two close friends of the victims and the comments made by the father of the two sisters killed. Second, we can’t ignore that on the day of the shooting we saw wall-to-wall media coverage about the death of the American aid worker and ISIS hostage Kayla Mueller. And finally, we have to factor in the overall rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric we have witnessed on both the right and the left recently.

First, let’s look at the undisputed facts of this crime. On Tuesday night, 46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks surrendered himself to local authorities, saying that he had shot and killed the three young people. The crime took place in the apartment of  Yusor and Deah, who had married just six weeks ago. The three victims were all shot in the head. There had been a dispute between the couple and the killer, but the precise reasons for Hicks’s anger with the victims is still in question.

One of Yusor’s close friends, Amira Ata, who like Yusor wears a hijab, explained to me by phone that when she heard that her friends were killed, she immediately knew it was Hicks. Ata noted that about two months ago, Hicks had come to the door of the victims’ apartment a short time after she had left.

According to Ata, Hicks, who had a gun in his hand, yelled at Yusor about an alleged parking issue, and claimed that the couple and Ata had been loud and woke up his wife. Yusor was so shaken by the incident that she called Ata and they discussed whether to report Hicks to the police. Yusor ultimately decided not to alert the authorities.

However, Ata didn’t believe that Hicks was really angry about the parking spot because she explained that there were plenty of spots designated for visitors at the complex. She also denied being loud, saying they had a quiet dinner and played a board game.

Ata mentioned that Yusor had not complained again to her about Hicks. But Yusor’s father, Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, told Raleigh’s News & Observer, “This man had picked on my daughter and her husband a couple of times before, and he talked with them with his gun in his belt.”

Overall, Ata said she believes that Hicks killed them because they were the only Muslims in the apartment complex. “They were targeted because they’re different and this is a hate crime,” she stated emphatically.

She also said that on the day of the murders, Deah had just returned by bus. The only one with a car was the younger sister Razan, who had already parked earlier in the day. The point being: There was no “parking dispute” in close proximity to the actual murders.

Dr. Abu-Salha made it clear that he, too, believed that Hicks had deliberately targeted the victims, noting: “It was execution style, a bullet in every head.” He added, “This was not a dispute over a parking space; this was a hate crime.” Abu-Salha also quoted his late daughter, who he said had told him, “‘Honest to God, he hates us for what we are and how we look.

Sameer Abdel Khalek, a close friend of Deah, echoed the sentiment of Ata and Dr. Abu-Salha. While he never had any interaction with Hicks, he told me others in the local Muslim community had described him as “off putting.” According to Khalek, the Chapel Hill Muslim community believes that the murders were a hate crime given the current climate of anti-Muslim bigotry. (By Wednesday evening, a Facebook page celebrating Hicks as a man who “sacrificed his freedom for his fellow Americans” had surfaced.)

As of now, we have no public statements from Hicks as to his motivation for the murders, although his wife insists it had nothing to do with the victims’ religion. Hicks’s Facebook page sheds a little light but it also paints a complex picture of the man. Hicks wrote, “Some call me a gun toting Liberal, others call me an open-minded Conservative.” He was apparently a supporter of gay marriage and a fan of certain progressive organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center.

He was also an avowed atheist and had expressed contempt for all faiths, including Islam. Hicks had posted passages from famed atheist Richard Dawkins and “liked” Sam Harris’s Facebook page, both of which have spewed hateful comments about Islam. Dawkins has condemned the attack on Twitter.

The investigation will continue into this tragedy that ended the lives of three young Muslim Americans. I can’t even imagine the heartbreak the parents feel, especially the father who lost two young daughters on the same day. And while part of me would prefer to wish that this was really a dispute over a parking space, I have little doubt that these three young people would be alive today if they were any other faith than Muslim.

 

By: Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast, February 12, 2015

February 13, 2015 Posted by | Bigotry, Islamophobia, Muslims | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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