FaithWorld

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.

On the divisive issue of abortion rights, the report, using survey data from October, said 57 percent of Americans believed it should be legal. Breaking opinion up by ideology, it found that 43 percent of conservatives were in favour of it being legal while 77 percent of self-described liberals held that view.

This is not surprising — there are many Americans who regard themselves as economic or “tough on crime” or national security conservatives who still support abortion rights. What may surprise some is that 19 percent of liberals feel it should be illegal. These could be people influenced by Catholic social teaching or other trends who regard themselves as liberal on most issues but not this one.

Where is the line between criticism and blasphemy?

Where is the dividing line between acceptable and unacceptable criticism of religion? How should the media cover issues that offend certain believers? These issues came up at last week’s Catholic-Muslim Forum in Rome and in the public editor’s column in the Sunday New York Times. In both cases, useful distinctions were made. But I’m not sure how much agreement they will produce the next time someone finds a depiction of a religion, its beliefs or its symbols outrageous. (Photo:Filipino Muslims protest outside Danish embassy in Manila, 15 Feb 2006)

The Catholic-Muslim Forum, an unprecedented meeting between Vatican and Muslim leaders and scholars, approached the issue as one of the rights of a minority religion, since cases they are concerned about — such as the Danish caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad — involved criticism of a minority faith by the local majority. They agreed that “religious minorities are entitled to be respected in their own religious convictions and practices … and their founding figures and symbols they consider sacred should not be subject to any form of mockery or ridicule.”

When I asked Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Catholic delegation, whether this meant the Vatican would support moves to limit criticism of religion that some western critics see as censorship, he said: “One must distinguish between a critical spirit, a spirit of criticism, and mockery. Freedom of speech means that we have the right to express opinions about religion, philosophy, philosophers and theologians and founders of religion. That is one thing. But deriding them and mocking them is something else… That impacts the values on which millions of people base their lives. That’s why we talk about mockery. I introduced that term… Mockery is very strong.”

Headscarves new target for Austrian far right

It’s already been a big theme in Germany, FranceTurkey and the Netherlands, and now the Austrian far right is asking: Should public employees be allowed to wear Muslim headscarves at work?

 

Two women have become the first schoolteachers in Vienna to wear headscarves while teaching.

 

One is also a local centre-left Social Democrat politician.

 

Teachers in other parts of the country already wear headscarves, and there is no law banning public employees from wearing such items as there is in some other European countries.  

from India Insight:

Anger, agreement at Muslim leaders gathering

jama.jpgSecurity was tight at the entrance to Gate No. 7 of the Jama Masjid in Old Delhi, a 17th century mosque built by Mughal kings, and the venue on Tuesday for a gathering of Muslim leaders from across the country to debate the persecution of Muslims.

Police shooed away fruit vendors and cycle rickshaws spilling over from the crowded market nearby, while others stood around the metal detectors at the entrance while their colleagues cased out the giant white shamiana inside with sniffer dogs under the slowly revolving ceiling fans.

 A full half hour after the scheduled time, when only the first few rows of seats were occupied, Maulana Naksh Bandi of the Jama Masjid began the proceedings, inviting various leaders to the dais, and declaring in Urdu: "there is no law, there is no justice for us. It is the rule of the jungle."

Who is the most Christian among U.S. candidates?

Given the faith factor in U.S. politics, it was probably inevitable that someone would come up with a poll asking who is the most Christian among the presidential and vice presidential candidates. The Times in London has done it — and come up with some interesting results so far. After an initial lead by the candidate thought to appeal most to evangelical Christians, the candidate now way out in front is the one who rumours say isn’t a Christian at all.

Articles of Faith blogThe online poll is open until next Wednesday, so click to Ruth Gledhill’s blog Articles of Faith to vote. The poll is a bit confusing — the post starts out asking whether Sarah Palin is a good Christian and then presents a voting table asking you to choose the “better Christian” among the presidential and vice presidential candidates. The winner of a four-horse race should be termed the “best” in the group, but maybe that sounds too judgmental.

Anyway, after voting, let us know here if you think this poll is representative of American voters’ views or skewed by votes from outside the United States.

Vatican official attacks U.S. Democrats as “party of death”

Senator Joe Biden with Catholic priest Zhang Depu near Beijing, 10 Aug 2001/poolVatican officials seldom single out political leaders who differ with the Church on issues like abortion rights or embryonic stem cell research. But now that the Vatican’s highest court is led by an American, the former St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke, we can expect things to get more explicit in Vatican City — at least when when it comes to U.S. politics.

Burke, who was named prefect of the Vatican’s Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature in June, told the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire that the U.S. Democratic Party risked “transforming itself definitively into a party of death for its decisions on bioethical issues.” He then attacked two of the party’s most high profile Catholics — vice presidential candidate Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — for misrepresenting Church teaching on abortion.

He said Biden and Pelosi, “while presenting themselves as good Catholics, have presented Church doctrine on abortion in a false and tendentious way.”

Where does religion have its strongest foothold?

Indonesian Muslims pray at Jakarta’s Istiqlal Mosque during Ramadan, 5 Sept 2008/Supri SupriThe answer is Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population. At least that was the conclusion of the latest Pew Research Institute survey of attitudes about religion around the world — a look at 24 countries based on thousands of interviews. Indonesia came in first with 99 percent of the population rating religion as important or very important in their lives — and it topped everyone else in the “very important” slot at 95 percent. Beyond that 80 percent of those surveyed in Indonesia say they pray five times a day every day — adhering to one of the five pillars of Islam.

Indeed Islam is well represented in the top five countries where religion is valued in life — with Tanzania, Jordan, Pakistan and Nigeria following Indonesia.

At the bottom of the chart was France, where only 10 percent saw religion as very important and 60 percent said they never pray.

Pelosi’s abortion comments provoke Catholic criticism

Catholic leaders in Colorado and elsewhere have been swift to react to comments by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that the Church itself had long debated when human life begins.

Nancy Pelosi kisses Pope Benedict’s ring in Washington as President George Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice look on, 16 April 2008//Larry Downing“… I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition … St. Augustine said at three months. We don’t know. The point is, is that it shouldn’t have an impact on the woman’s right to choose,” said Pelosi, seen at left kissing Pope Benedict’s ring during his visit to Washington in April.

In Denver, the venue for this week’s Democratic party national convention due to annoint Barack Obama as its presidential nominee on Thursday, Archbishop Charles Chaput and his Auxiliary Bishop James Conley said in a statement on Monday that Catholic teaching on the subject was unequivocal — abortion is gravely evil — and that “Catholics who make excuses for it … fool only themselves.” Similar comments came from Washington D.C. Archbishop Donald Wuerl.

Did Saddleback “faith quiz” cross church-state divide?

John McCain, Rick Warren and Barack Obama at Saddleback Civil Forum, 17 August 2008/Mark AveryDid Rick Warren’s Saddleback Civil Forum with John McCain and Barack Obama violate the separation of church and state? Was it right for a pastor to ask U.S. presidential candidates about their belief in Jesus Christ or their worst moral failures? Will the success of the Saddleback Civil Forum mean that major televised interviews or debates about faith will become a regular fixture in American political campaigns?

I didn’t think questions like this got enough of an airing in U.S. media before Saturday’s event. The fact that Warren made it such an interesting evening made me think the fundamental question — should there be a televised “faith quiz” at all? — would be crowded out of the public debate. The initial reactions angled on the winner/loser question or the “cone of silence” issue seemed to bear this out. But some commentators and blogs are now zeroing in on the deeper question.

Obama and Warren, 17 August 2008//Mark AveryIn the New York Times, columnist Willian Kristol (Showdown at Saddleback) applauded the event and said: “Rick Warren should moderate one of the fall presidential debates.” That says a lot about the quality of the usual televised debates but little about the church-state question. Ruth Ann Dailey’s op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette put her answer about the church-state question right in the headline: At Saddleback, the wall stands firm.

Interesting faith conference at Lipscomb University

Barack Obama, 15 June 2008/John GressOne of the themes at the annual “Christian Scholars Conference” at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, is “faith and politics in the current political climate” — subjects that readers of this blog will know we often touch on.

The conference, which kicked off on Thursday and ends on Saturday, features an impressive academic line-up. A link to the abstracts can be found here.

Keri Thompson of the University of Texas has what looks like an intriguing presentation on “Progressive Christianity in Election 2008: The Rhetorical Strategies of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.”