FaithWorld

from Tales from the Trail:

Obama talk on economic troubles turns to religion

When things are down and out people tend to go in search of higher powers.

And President Barack Obama is, after all, a person (and does not walk on water like some fans might believe).

His speech on the economy, given in a hall with painted religious figures at Georgetown University, a Jesuit school, was sprinkled with religious metaphors. Perhaps he's hoping for some divine intervention out of the country's financial mess.

(The religious metaphors come on the heels of Obama's first attendance at a Sunday church service since he became president. Coincidence?) OBAMA/

"There is a parable at the end of the Sermon on the Mount that tells the story of two men. The first built his house on a pile of sand, and it was destroyed as soon as the storm hit," Obama said.

"But the second is known as the wise man, for when '...the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house...it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock."

from Tales from the Trail:

Obamas attend first Sunday church service in Washington

OBAMA/WASHINGTON - Barack Obama attended his first Sunday church service as president on Easter Sunday, greeted by hundreds of onlookers at an Episcopal church a block from the White House.

Obama, wife Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha sat about halfway down the first row in the packed but intimate St. John's, across Lafayette Park from the White House.

Throngs of onlookers packed the streets around the church and behind police barricades, even though, according to a White House official, the location was not disclosed until Sunday.

Obama seeks to avoid “clash of civilizations”

U.S. President Barack Obama ended his trip to Muslim Turkey on Tuesday by calling for peace and dialogue with Islam and the creation of a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel.

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In his first trip as president to the Muslim world, Obama sought to rebuild ties after anger at the invasion of Iraq, the war in Afghanistan and accusations his predecessor George W. Bush was biased in favor of Israel.

You can see some of our coverage of his trip here and here.

Obama’s visit, in which he said America “will never be at war with Islam,” marks a strong shift in U.S. policy after his predecessor Bush upset Muslims with his backing for Israel, invasion of Iraq and branding of Iran as part of an “axis of evil.”

Obama signals open to change on stem cell policy

U.S. President Barack Obama signaled on Tuesday that he would be open to policy changes on stem cell research if the science on adult stem cells determined that thorny ethical issues could be avoided without harming medical advancement.

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Obama lifted restrictions on federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research earlier this month, angering abortion opponents but cheering those who believe the study could produce treatments for many diseases.

Asked at a White House news conference if he wrestled with the ethics of the issue, given the promise in adult stem cell research, Obama said:

Markets and morality: a tale of two uproars

excessThe howls of protest against fat cat bonuses during this financial crisis stem from a deep-seated source of moral outrage. For many people, it just seems like common sense that it’s unfair for Wall Street executives to reward  themselves for creating the mess robbing millions of their savings. (Photos: Protest outside Goldman Sachs in New York, 19 March 2009/Eric Thayer)

Evolutionary biologists and social psychologists believe this moral sense is innate, an instinct for cooperation and fairness that has been honed over millions of years of natural selection into a universal moral grammar that gives us a “gut feeling” about ethical dilemmas.

If we have this moral instinct, it would seem natural for politicians to appeal to it. Some are doing that, while others seem to be missing the mark. The news over the weekend from the United States and France shows the two different approaches in action.

Can the United States fix Durban II?

The United States has decided to participate in planning meetings for the United Nations Conference on Racism in April in order to influence its final declaration. The conference, a follow-up to the 2001 meeting in South Africa that the U.S. and Israel walked out on because the draft declaration called Israel racist (that language was later dropped). Israel and Canada have already announced they would boycott “Durban II,” as the conference is being called, and the Bush administration was opposed to the conference. But the Obama administration has decided to wade into the debate in the hopes of getting a better result. (Photo: United Nations General Assembly, 26 Sept 2008/Eric Thayer)

Apart from the expected criticism of Israel, this conference in Geneva is also due to be a showplace for a drive by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to have the U.N. condemn defamation of religion. The U.N. General Assembly voted for just such a condemnation last December, for the fourth year running. While the non-binding resolution urged member states to provide “adaquate protection against acts of hatred, discrumination, intimidation and coercion resulting from defamation of religions and incitement to religious hatred in general,” the only religion it mentioned by name was Islam. Western countries opposed that resolution as contrary to the basic rights of free expression and opinion.

In statements in December, the freedom of expression rapporteurs of the United Nations, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) have called on the United Nations not to issue any such resolution.

If Hillary goes to Jakarta, can Barack be far behind?

Is U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Jakarta a hint that President Barack Obama will pick Indonesia as the first Muslim country he visits in his drive to improve U.S. relations with the Islamic world? There were lots of other suggestions when he first mentioned this back in December, including Egypt (the New York Times pick) and Morocco (judging by what might have been a write-in campaign on our comments page).

My tip at the time was either Indonesia or Turkey. In recent weeks, Turkey’s star has probably faded as its relations with Israel soured recently. Those strains came after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan angrily accused Israeli President Shimon Peres of “knowing very well how to kill” in Gaza during a debate at the World Economic Forum in Davos and then stormed off the stage. (Photo: Hillary Clinton with Jakarta schoolgirls, 18 Feb 2009/Supri)

Clinton said all the right things today, like telling the country where Obama spent four years as a boy that it was proof that modernity and Islam can coexist. “As I travel around the world over the next years, I will be saying to people: if you want to know whether Islam, democracy, modernity and women’s rights can co-exist, go to Indonesia,” she said at a dinner with civil society activists. Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda reciprocated by telling her Indonesia shared the United States’ joy at Obama’s election and she should tell the U.S. president “we cannot wait too long” for a visit.

Militants killing laughter and music in Pakistan region

It’s hard to write about the Taliban on a religion blog without giving the impression that this militant movement in Afghanistan and Pakistan is basically religious. It’s certainly Islamist, i.e. it uses Islam for political ends. But it’s hard to find much religion in what they’re doing, while there’s a lot of power politics, Pashtun nationalism and insurrection against the Kabul and Islamabad governments there. (Photo: Pakistani pro-Taliban militants in Swat Valley, 2 Nov 2007/Sherin Zada Kanju)

It’s often difficult to separate religion and politics in groups like this, but President Barack Obama gave a basic rule of thumb in his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington last week:

“Far too often, we have seen faith wielded as a tool to divide us from one another – as an excuse for prejudice and intolerance. Wars have been waged. Innocents have been slaughtered. For centuries, entire religions have been persecuted, all in the name of perceived righteousness…

Obama evokes church/state divide at National Prayer Breakfast

Religion’s role in U.S. politics was on full display on Thursday as President Barack Obama spoke and prayed at the annual National Prayer Breakfast.

Obama, an adult convert to Christianity, used the occasion to announce that he will be establishing a White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. This will replace or be an extension of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives established by former President George W. Bush, who was strongly supported by conservative Christians.

Some of Obama’s remarks about the new office are sure to raise eyebrows in those conservative Christian circles. For example:

African Americans top U.S. religious measures-Pew

An analysis by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life suggests that blacks are considerably more religious than the overall U.S. population. You can see the whole report here.

While the U.S. is generally considered a highly religious nation, African-Americans are markedly more religious on a variety of measures than the U.S. population as a whole, including level of affiliation with a religion, attendance at religious services, frequency of prayer and religion’s importance in life,” the report says.

Its highlights include:

- Nearly eight in 10 blacks (79 percent) say religion is very important in their lives, compared with 56 percent among all U.S. adults.