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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

“A Task That Cannot Be Avoided”: The Necessary Task Of Integrating Islam Within The West

In what is both a reflection and an amplification of rising anti-Muslim sentiment in this country, Donald Trump has called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

Trump’s xenophobic statement and the popular fears it reflects have to be addressed intelligently and forcefully. We should begin addressing them by admitting that there are unique challenges with integrating Muslims and Islam itself into polities shaped by Western liberalism. But it is a task that has to be done. It cannot be avoided even by the most extreme restrictions on immigration or travel, because Muslims are our already our neighbors. And in an age of decentralized authority and instant digital communication, Islam will remain a way of life available to anyone in the West.

A particularly intense example of America’s Trumpian Islamophobia was captured at a town meeting in Virginia over plans to build a mosque. A man erupted at a Muslim who was speaking, “Every Muslim is a terrorist, period.” Others at the meeting applauded the erupting man for saying that he didn’t want Islam’s “death cult” in his town.

That is ignorant and wrong. But if you will, consider a more thoughtful and advanced version of this argument: The Prophet Muhammad was a military leader and conqueror, a militant posture that shapes Islam to this day. The Grand Ayatollah was telling the truth when he said “Islam is politics or it is nothing.” Osama bin Laden’s fatwa against America was totally consistent with the texts and spirit of early Islam. Today’s millions upon millions of non-violent Muslims could reasonably be described as lax Muslims.

It’s easy enough to dismiss that argument as bigoted, too, and to note that it fails to recognize the very real variety within Islam. At the same time, we should recognize that our culture entertains similarly structured arguments against more familiar religions.

People argue that Christianity is inherently sexist. Or that Catholicism’s view of authority makes it resistant to civil law. We see and sometimes nurture the same preening, vandal spirit of the “Draw Muhammad day” when we call a condom-portrait of Pope Benedict art. Some of the right-wing criticisms of Islam or the customs of immigrants from Islamic countries can have a distinctively secularist flavor, for instance, their fear about the spread of female genital mutilation. It’s possible that the discomfort some progressives have with criticizing Islam itself forcefully would disappear if Muslims seemed like a less vulnerable minority than they are. How do we get there?

Some say that today’s anxiety around Muslim immigration is as irrational as previous fears about integrating immigrant Catholics in American life. That’s too glib. While even the highest authorities in Catholicism of the 19th century did occasionally declare itself hostile to liberal society, the truth is that liberalism itself was shaped by its Christian inheritance. Islam’s tensions with the West run much deeper than Catholicism’s tensions with America ever did. Islam differs in important ways from Judaism and Christianity. There is Islam’s emphasis on jurisprudence over theology. And Islam’s form of triumphalism, which has more difficulty reconciling itself to a world in which Islamic ideas are marginal.

But Western Christians or secular people should not presume to tell Muslims that true Islam is violent. It is easy to find quietist strains of Islam that impress with their piety and devotion to the texts that are at the heart of Islam. A number of scholars and Islamic commentators, from Muhammad Abduh to Fazlur Rahman, have preached an Islam that is in creative tension with the West, rather than outright conflict.

Besides, America’s liberal bargain, more than Europe’s, is capacious and could accommodate a variety of expressions of Islam, just as it accommodates a variety of other religions, some of which build communities that strike us as illiberal. The challenges this represents may be truly awkward, but they are nonetheless necessary.

Consider the community of Samtar Hasidic Jews at Kiryas Joel in Monroe, New York, which has historically fallen within my own Congressional district. This community of Jews sees huge increases of its population because of its incredible fertility rate and welcome attitude to its own co-religionists. Nearly 90 percent of the community speaks Yiddish at home. Nearly half cannot speak English competently. It is widely reported that religious authorities in Kiryas Joel can swing the vote of the town and with their vote, the divided Congressional district in which it sits. Kiryas Joel’s residents have an awkward and sometimes legally combative relationship with their Monroe neighbors over planning and development.

There in Kiryas Joel is much of what people claim to fear about Islamic integration, a separate, “unmeltable” group, one that keeps to its own language and folkways. And yet Kiryas Joel’s peaceful existence with its neighbors is a testament not only to that community’s genius, but the genius of America as well. There is simply no pressing reason for New York to tear up its very generous legal settlement to assimilate Kiryas Joel on its own terms.

Similarly, there is no inherent reason for America to tear up its legal settlement in response to Islam itself. There may be good reasons to limit immigration from Muslim nations. I believe there are. But they are not substantively very different from reasons to limit immigration from any or all nations.

And finally, if the anti-Muslim chauvinists really cannot handle any of the above arguments, the final argument for finding a way to better integrate Muslims should be to prove the superiority of the West itself. Christians, Jews, and other religious minorities have existed within Islamic civilization for over a millennia, not without incident, and not without awkward or painful compromises. If the West is better and stronger than Islamic civilization, it should be able to tolerate religious minorities better than Islamic civilization, too.

 

By: Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, December 10, 2015

December 12, 2015 Posted by | Islam, Muslims, Western Civilization | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Fox News Wants Kids To Fear Muslims”: Don’t Confuse Children With Facts Or Valid Information They Haven’t Been Told By Fox News

It appears that Fox News is not content with just feeding anti-Muslim crap to its older-skewing audience and now wants schools to teach children to fear Muslims, too.

On Tuesday’s episode of the Fox News show Outnumbered, the brain trust gathered to express outrage that a Georgia public school was teaching students about Islam in a way they viewed as being far too positive.

Fox’s Keith Ablow demanded the young students be taught in world religion classes that Muslims want “to destroy the United States,” adding, “How can you leave that out?” Fox’s Harris Faulkner chimed in, “Why wouldn’t you teach it in the context of the headlines today?

And Andrea Tantaros, who never misses the opportunity to up the hysteria, added that schools should teach students that Muslims have “been killing people for hundreds of years” and that they “have sought to destroy the West.”

So in sum, Fox News wants 11- and 12-year-old kids to learn about the best of the other faiths, but the worst about Islam. Unless, of course, these Fox hosts are truly arguing that the radicals of every faith should be taught to the kids as well.

For example, in discussing Christianity, the students would be taught about the Christian terrorists like the Army of God, “a network of violent Christianists” that openly promotes killing abortion providers like George Tiller, who was killed by a member of the group in 2009. They could also be taught about the Christian militiamen who are slaughtering Muslims in in the Central African Republic, including beheading a young Muslim man in that nation’s capital.

In teaching Judaism, the lesson plan would include the Jewish terrorists who just a few months ago burned down the famed “Loaves and Fishes” church in Israel. These Jewish radicals have also in recent years engaged in other attacks on Christian churches because they view anything that’s not Jewish in Israel as being idolatry, and as they put it, “idols will have their heads cut off.”

I’m sure that the Fox News types would object to a curriculum that included these radicals when teaching the basics of Christianity and Judaism. And they would be correct. The students should be taught about the mainstream beliefs and followers of each faith, especially when learning about these religions for the first time. By making radicals part of that lesson plan, however, they would be wrongly elevating these terrorists to the level of being a mainstream part of the religion. (Of course, incidents about religious extremism should be part of any current events curriculum.)

But the views of these Fox News personalities are almost tame when compared to some parents in states like Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida that are upset their children are learning anything about Islam. Greg Locke, a Tennessee pastor, was so outraged that students were being taught about Islam in world history class, he encouraged students last month to not do the assignments concerning Islam and instead “take an F because this history class is part of an ‘Islamic invasion.’” He also claimed that teaching kids about Islam was “absolute brainwashing” and declared, “We’re not going to stand for it.”

Likewise, a father in Georgia demanded last year that if students are taught about Islam, they must also be told about the Muslims he claims are “going around beheading people in America.”

Some parents didn’t expressly object to Islam being taught, but were concerned that Islam is being taught in school at the expense of Christianity. That sounds like a valid issue, but time and time again school officials have made it clear in these various states that Christianity and all other major religions are taught equally. In Georgia, for example, a school official explained that the curriculum on world religions has been the same for 30 years and teaches all major faiths in equal increments.

But the comment that probably best sums up how many of these parents feel comes from one in Georgia who stated: “I honestly don’t want my child learning about Islam at all.” And troublingly this sentiment is held by 44 percent of American adults who responded in a recent poll they don’t want to learn more about Islam. Apparently these people have learned all they need to know about Islam and aren’t open to changing their views. They don’t want to be confused with facts or valid information they haven’t been told by Fox News.

In a time when anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States is at record highs and with people like Donald Trump and Ben Carson ginning up the hate against Muslims, there was never a more urgent time for an accurate counter narrative to the scary images we see of terror groups like ISIS.

Thankfully, younger people have more positive view of Islam and Muslims than their older counterparts. In fact, a July poll found that 76 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds would support a Muslim for president. Sorry, Ben Carson.

The hope is that those older people who have concerns about Muslims will at least be open minded enough to have a discussion about the issue. But at the very least we shouldn’t prevent young Americans from learning about what mainstream Islam truly is, as opposed to what ISIS and al Qaeda want you to believe the faith is about. Why give these terrorist groups exactly what they want?

 

By: Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast, October 2, 2015

October 4, 2015 Posted by | Education, Fox News, Islamophobia | , , , , , , , , | 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

“Religious Conversion Therapy”: The Duck Caliphate Of Phil Robertson

Appearing as a guest on Sean Hannity’s Fox News television program Tuesday evening, Duck Dynasty’s patriarch and chief duck caller, Phil Robertson, shared with us his prescription for dealing with the ISIS threat.

“I’m just saying, convert them or kill them.”

On first hearing Robertson’s strategy, my thoughts turned to wondering what religion Phil had in mind for these sick creeps more interested in murder and money than they are in religion.

Would, say, a conversion to Hinduism do the trick for the duckmeister or, being the committed Christian that he is, did Robertson require that the conversion be to his own Christian faith?

My answer would arrive soon enough as Robertson pronounced, “I’d much rather have a Bible study with all of them and show them the error of their ways and point them to Jesus Christ. ”

Well…gee, Phil. I was kind of hoping that if these brutal murderers were going to see the light and move from their perverse and evil behavior to a more peaceful existence filled with good will toward all men, you might point them towards Judaism. You have to admit it would be a far more dramatic conversion and make one heck of a splash given the thousands of years of bad blood between Muslims and Jews in the Middle East.

But then I got to thinking, what if these extremist sickos—and that is all these murderers posing as religious zealots actually are—were to find out that, through the years, there have been extremists in all faiths who have done extraordinary evil in the name of their professed religion?

Do you really imagine, Phil, that they would not gravitate to the extreme interpretations they would create in their newly-found religion in order to get back to what they do best—murder and rape?

What if this year’s brand of terrorist murderers were to discover that Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and so on and so forth, can be—and have been—twisted over the years to form the basis of extremist action where, at the end of the day, innocent people are murdered in the supposed name of those religions?

Would Duck Diver Phil be happier if Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—the maniacal, self-appointed Caliph of the all-new Islamic State—traded in his black mask and automatic weapon for the flowing robes and torture racks of Torquemada? Would it, somehow, be better if Al-Baghdadi, in the name of his newly adopted Christian religion, proceeded to purge the Middle East of Jews if they refused to convert as was the fashion in the days of Torquemada?

Remember, Phil, a terrorist is a terrorist is a terrorist.

Assuming Mr. Robertson is willing to accept a mass ISIS conversion to Judaism, would he be cool with these whackjobs turning themselves into the Brit HaKanaim (translation: Covenant of Zealots), the radical religious Jewish organization that sought to wipe out secularism in Israel through terrorism designed to impose Jewish religious law in the early days of Israel’s existence?

Again, Phil, a terrorist is a terrorist is a terrorist.

Or maybe Robertson would go for a conversion of the forces of ISIS to Buddhism so they could join up with the Buddhist extremists currently terrorizing minority religions in Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

Once again, Phil….just in case you haven’t gotten it…a terrorist is a terrorist is a terrorist.

Sorry Phil, old pal, but while you may be able to take the religion out of the terrorist via a good old fashioned Bible reading, you just aren’t likely to take the lust for terror out of the terrorist simply by changing his religion. There has always been—and I fear always will be—those in almost every religion who seek to impose their “rightness” on others who disagree through various means, including torture and murder.

 

By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, September 3, 2014

September 4, 2014 Posted by | Middle East, Phil Robertson, Religion | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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