FaithWorld

Liberal U.S. Catholics say their Church is not listening

(St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, 4 March 2005/Tom Heneghan)

Members of a liberal group of U.S. Catholics called on Sunday on Church leaders to open talks with their members on controversies ranging from the ordination of women to allowing priests to marry. Members of the American Catholic Council, meeting in Detroit, said they had grown concerned that the Church hierarchy was not listening to its members on issues such as the role of women, married clergy and the treatment of homosexuals.

The meeting comes as the Roman Catholic Church in the United States is struggling with a sexual abuse crisis, loss of membership and a dwindling number of priests.

“When in God’s name are the conversations going to begin?” asked Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun who addressed the meeting of about 2,000 people — part of a liberal wing that represents a minority in the 1.2 billion-member Church. She likened the structure, with bishops and archbishops answering to the pope in Rome, to “a medieval system that has now been abandoned by humanity everywhere, except by us.”

Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron had warned before the meeting that any members of the clergy who attended the group’s mass would be at risk of being defrocked. “All of the invited keynote speakers have manifested dissent from Catholic teachings or support for dissenters,” the archdiocese said in a posting on its website.

Robert Wurm, a retired priest from Ferndale, Michigan, who officiated at the closing mass, said he was not worried the archbishop would take action against him. “He was careful about that. He said they could be defrocked, not that they would,” Wurm told reporters. Under Church law, an archbishop has authority over all masses held in his area.

Bomb hits office of liberal Indonesian Islamic group defending Ahmadis

(A Muslim woman holds a placard during a protest against the Ahmadi sect in Jakarta February 18, 2011. Indonesia's highest Islamic authority and many mass Islamic organisations in the most populous Muslim country consider Ahmadi "heretical" for believing that Mohammad was not Islam's final prophet. The placard reads, "Disband Ahmadi". REUTERS/Beawiharta)

(A protest against the Ahmadi sect in Jakarta February 18, 2011. The sign reads "Disband Ahmadiyah"/Beawiharta)

A small explosion has hit the Jakarta office of the Liberal Islamic Network, an Indonesian group that has defended the rights of minority Islamic  Ahmadi sect, a witness said. The explosion on Tuesday, which injured three people, comes a month after a mob beat to death three followers of the Ahmadi sect, considered heretical by mainstream Muslims.

Indonesia has won praise for largely defeating Islamic terror, but a recent spike in religious intolerance could heighten risk concerns for foreign investors counting on improved stability in Southeast Asia’s largest economy and the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Egypt’s ruling party crushes Muslim, liberal opposition in vote

egypt brotherhood (Photo: A Muslim Brotherhood candidate holds up election ballots he said were burned by government supporters, in Cairo November 30, 2010/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling party has swept to a predictably huge win in an Egyptian parliamentary election that the opposition denounced as rigged, state media reported on Monday.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which controlled a fifth of seats in the outgoing parliament, boycotted Sunday’s second round after winning no seats in the first stage a week earlier. The second biggest opposition group in the last parliament, the liberal Wafd party, also withdrew.

The opposition and independent monitors cited ballot box stuffing, voter intimidation and other abuses in both rounds. But Sunday’s run-off passed off quietly, with some of the toughest races in seats where rival candidates from the ruling party were competing against each other.

Egypt’s new religious fervour breeds ghetto mentality

egypt koranA wave of religious fervour and a backlash by secular liberals has left some ordinary Egyptians feeling like strangers in their own country, and civil rights activists warn of a dangerous drift into sectarianism.

Banker Hussein Khalil says organising something as simple as an evening out with friends has turned into a headache. (Photo: Koran held up at protest rally, September 5, 2010/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

“These days in Egypt, either you go out with people who are very strict and agree not to go anywhere that serves alcohol, or you go out with others who just want to get drunk,” said the 27-year-old. “Moderates are unable to enjoy their lives… We’re under pressure to join one of the two extremes.”

Liberal Koran expert Nasr Abu Zayd dies in Egypt, after exile

zaydNasr Abu Zayd, an Egyptian Koranic scholar declared an apostate for challenging mainstream Muslim views on the holy book, died on Monday in a Cairo hospital, aged 66.  Abu Zayd held a liberal, critical approach to Islamic teachings that angered some Muslim conservatives in his homeland in the 1990s, a decade when President Hosni Mubarak’s government was combating an uprising by armed Islamic militants.

Abu Zayd critiqued the use of religion to exert political power. He argued the Koran was both a literary and religious text which clashes with Islamic teaching which sees the holy book as the final revelation of God.  His approach challenged Egypt’s mainstream Islamic thinkers and popular sentiment in a country where conservative Islamic trends have been on the rise, reflected in part by the prevalence of the Islamic veil. (Photo: Nasr Abu Zayd/ University for Humanistics)

“I am anti-dogma,” he told Reuters in 2008. “It’s a meaning produced by humans, and I don’t find that I am going outside the domain of religion if I challenge this dogma.”

GUESTVIEW: European liberals – stand up and speak out in Islam debate

minarets-train

Posters for minaret ban at Zurich train station, 26 Oct 2009/Arnd Wiegmann

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Dr H.A. Hellyer is Fellow of the Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations, University of Warwick, author of “Muslims of Europe: the ‘Other’ Europeans”and Director of the Visionary Consultants Group.

By Dr H.A. Hellyer

The real inheritors of European liberalism need to stand up and make themselves known because the struggle to maintain pluralism in Europe is only going to get tougher from here on in.

People will differ as to when they started, and why, and who is to blame. But one thing is for sure. The problems in Europe around the Muslim presence are not going to go away – they are going to intensify. And real European liberals are going to have make their voices be counted, or say farewell to a Europe that fought so hard to ensure civil liberties and freedom could find homes on the continent.

Is a moral instinct the source of our noble thoughts?

judgmentUntil not too long ago, most people believed human morality was based on scripture, culture or reason. Some stressed only one of those sources, others mixed all three. None would have thought to include biology. With the progress of neuroscientific research in recent years, though, a growing number of psychologists, biologists and philosophers have begun to see the brain as the base of our moral views. Noble ideas such as compassion, altruism, empathy and trust, they say, are really evolutionary adaptations that are now fixed in our brains. Our moral rules are actually instinctive responses that we express in rational terms when we have to justify them. (Photo: Religious activist at a California protest, 10 June 2005/Gene Blevins)

Thanks to a flurry of popular articles, scientists have joined the ranks of those seen to be qualified to speak about morality, according to anthropologist Mark Robinson, a Princeton Ph.D student who discussed this trend at the University of Pennsylvania’s Neuroscience Boot Camp. “In our current scientific society, where do people go to for the truth about human reality?” he asked. “It used to be you might read a philosophy paper or consult a theologian. But now there seems to be a common public sense that the authority over what morality is can be found by neuroscientists or scientists.”

This change has come over the past decade as brain scan images began to reveal which areas of the brain react when a person grapples with a moral problem. They showed activity not only in the prefrontal cortex, where much of our rational thought is processed, but also in areas known to handle emotion and conflicts between brain areas. Such insights cast doubt on long-standing assumptions about reason or religion driving our moral views. “A few theorists have even begun to claim that that the emotions are in fact in charge of the temple of morality and that moral reasoning is really just a servant masquerading as the high priest,” University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt, one of the leading theorists in this field, has written.

The irrelevant and the interesting in Obama’s religious views

There’s been a lot of discussion over the past few months on this and other blogs about Barack Obama and religion. Looking back at it now that the campaign is over and he is starting to shape his administration, it’s interesting to see how many of those discussions shed little light on what he would actually do. There were comments about him being a hidden Muslim, for example, or not a real Christian. That speculation seemed based on thin evidence and the assumption he was running for preacher and cleric-in-chief rather than president and commander-in-chief. As a journalist covering religion in public life, after learning whether a candidate professes a certain faith, I want to know how that faith will really influence his or her decisions in office. This is not necessarily the same as listing the soundbite positions used on the campaign trail. (Photo: Barack Obama at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, 15 June 2008/John Gress)

Seen from this point of view, probably the most interesting fact about Barack Obama’s religious views is one that rarely gets mentioned. It’s that he’s an admirer of the late American Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971). The President-elect has clearly named “America’s leading public theologian” as a major influence on his thinking. It comes out less in specific positions than in the way he looks at problems and discusses policies in terms with a ”Niebuhrian” ring about them.

In April 2007, Obama told David Brooks of the New York Times that Niebuhr was one of his favourite thinkers.  So I asked, What do you take away from him? Brooks asked:

U.S. ideology stable, “culture trench warfare” ahead?

The U.S. Democratic Party has gained a larger following over the past two decades but America’s ideological landscape has remained largely unchanged over the past two decades, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. You can see the analysis here.

What is of interest for readers of this blog may be the implications of this “cultural trench warfare” — with neither side gaining much ground from the other — for red-hot social issues such as abortion rights and the future prospects for both the Republicans and the Democrats.

The Democratic Party’s advantage in party identification has widened over the past two decades, but the share of Americans who describe their political views as liberal, conservative or moderate has remained stable during the same period. Only about one-in-five Americans currently call themselves liberal (21 percent), while 38 percent say they are conservative and 36 percent describe themselves as moderate. This is virtually unchanged from recent years; when George W. Bush was first elected president, 18 percent of Americans said they were liberal, 36 percent were conservative and 38 percent considered themselves moderate,” the report, released late on Tuesday, says.