FaithWorld

from Bernd Debusmann:

Obama and the American fringe

The prospect of President Barack Obama winning another four-year term in November is swelling the ranks of anti-Muslim activists and groups on the extremist fringe of American society. Their growth has accelerated every year since Obama took office in 2009.

So says a new report by a civil rights organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center, that has tracked extremist groups for the past three decades and found that last year alone, the number of anti-Muslim groups tripled, from 10 to 30.

Between 2008 and the end of 2011, according to the center, there was an eight-fold increase in the number of militias and "patriot" groups whose members inhabit a parallel universe where the federal government wants to rob them of their guns and their freedom.

"What groups on the radical right have in common is the belief that Obama wants to destroy America," Mark Potok, author of the report, said in an interview. "Fears that he will win again are now driving the expansion."

How many Americans are on the right-wing fringe is not known. The Southern Poverty Law Center gives no estimate and neither does the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which also monitors such groups. But it issued a report last September on a sub-set of the far-right scene, "sovereign citizens" who believe that federal, state and local governments operate illegally and therefore have no right to collect taxes. The FBI called them domestic terrorists and "a growing threat."

from Photographers' Blog:

Two worlds of Purim

By Nir Elias

As an Israeli and a resident of “ultra” secular Tel Aviv for most of my adult life, Purim -- the celebration of the Jews' salvation from genocide in ancient Persia, as recounted in the Book of Esther -- has always been a time of partying and dressing up, for me.

Images of Orthodox Jews celebrating Purim were always very familiar. But being present at one of these celebrations was a different experience altogether.

This year I went to photograph the Vizhnitz Hasidic community in Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox city some 7 km (4 miles) from Tel Aviv. The Vizhnitz community members tend to emphasize the joyous gatherings and celebrations commemorated in the Jewish tradition.

from John Lloyd:

God, Richard Dawkins, and the meaning of life

Two clever men, long past the first flush of youth, took part in a debate on God’s place -- or absence -- in the meaning and origin of life last week in Oxford. They differed; and to no one’s surprise, each remained unconvinced by the other’s argument at its end. Oxford University has been hosting such encounters for centuries.

So why was the University’s Sheldonian Theatre packed, with two other theaters full of people watching the debate on closed-circuit screens? Why was it covered by the news media? Why had it been sold out within hours? Who still cared about this stuff in a society that -- for all that the Church of England is an established religion and the queen is its head -- is as secular as any in the democratic world?

Judging by the response of the audience, including this writer, that last question’s answer emerged in the Oxford debate. We realized, as we listened to the moderate, educated English cadences of the debaters, that we care because no matter how indifferent to religion we are, or even how certain that it is a purely human construct rather than a divine revelation, we are made uneasy by its claims and miss its promise of grace and eternity. More practically, we care because many can feel morally adrift without its guidance. In his just-published book, Religion for Atheists, the philosopher Alain de Botton argues that, as he put it in an interview, “religions are full of interesting, challenging, consoling ideas … they do community really well, they’re very good on ethics, they teach us to be good, to be kind.

from Tales from the Trail:

Santorum explains “phony theology” comment

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum says he wasn't questioning Barack Obama's faith on Saturday when he said the Democratic president's agenda was based on "some phony theology."

Santorum explained his comments during an appearance on CBS's "Face the Nation" Sunday, saying he was questioning the president's world view -- not his faith.

"I accept the fact that the president's Christian," Santorum said. "I just said that when you have a world view that elevates the earth above man says that, you know, we can't take those resources because we're going to harm the earth by things that are frankly just not scientifically proven."

from The Great Debate:

The religion of an increasingly godless America

By Amanda Marcotte
The views expressed are her own.

Listening to the national discourse, one could be forgiven for imagining that America is becoming an ever more religious place. The amount of God talk in the public square has dramatically increased in a generation. Prior to the 70s, the concept of “the religious right” had barely existed, but now it’s a powerful lobbying force with multiple groups from Focus on the Family to Concerned Women for America, all sitting on more money than most liberal special interest groups could ever hope to accumulate. Republicans, especially, claw over each other to demonstrate fealty to a very narrow, fundamentalist view of Christianity that forbids gay rights, reproductive rights, and requires you to believe that evolution never happened. A generation ago, most people outside of evangelical Christian circles had never heard of things like “megachurches” or “the Rapture”, but now even people living in the most secularist urban enclaves are familiar with these concepts, if still less than approving. Americans seem not just more religious, but more drawn to reactionary religion than ever before.

That is, until you start to dig into the actual facts. If you poll actual Americans, you’ll find that the trend is not towards more religiosity, but towards less. Much less, in fact. Recent research from the Pew Research Center on politics and generational differences shows that interest in religion is actually declining from one generation to the next, and not only that, but interest in mixing religion and politics is on the decline. When asked which factors are the key to America’s success, fewer than half of Millennials say they believe that religious faith and values are important. They are the first generation to respond in such a way, as a majority of all older generations cite religion as an important factor. Even the generation known for cynicism, Generation X, has 64% of respondents citing religion as an important factor in our nation’s success, a full 18 points over the Millennial generation. Despite myths that people become more religious or more conservative as they age, previous Pew research shows that Xers and Boomers held roughly the same opinions on religion in their youth as they do now.

The research also found that more than one in four Millennials have no religious affiliation at all, the largest of any generation, though only by a small margin, as one in five Gen Xers is also irreligious. The percentage of unaffiliated Americans has grown gradually over the generations, but with the Millennials, we’re seeing a new trend emerge. There is now a large group of Americans who have a faith, but separate it from public life, keeping it in the private sphere.

Mormon faith may hurt Romney in U.S. primaries – poll

 Mitt Romney’s Mormonism could hurt the Republican candidate with evangelical voters in his fight for the party’s presidential nomination, but those voters would favor him over President Barack Obama in the general election, according to a newly released poll.

Some 15 percent of evangelical Christians, a key constituency in the Republican presidential nomination battle, say they are wary of Mormonism and will not vote for Mitt Romney, the Pew Research Center poll found.

But those same voters were more likely to favor the former Massachusetts governor, a Mormon, in the November 2012 general election over President Barack Obama, whom they dislike more, the telephone poll conducted Nov. 9-14 found.

Optimistic? Attending services may be reason

Regular attendance at religious services is associated with a more optimistic outlook and a lesser inclination to be depressed, compared to those who do not attend services at all, according to a recently published study.

The study’s findings supports previous research that religious participation can promote psychological and physical health — and reduce mortality risks — possibly by calming people in stressful times, creating meaningful social interactions and helping curtail bad habits.

Those who said they attended services more than once a week in the previous month were 56 percent more likely to be above the median score in a measure of optimism than those who did not attend services, according to the study published in the Journal of Religion and Health.

Many U.S. Catholics have independent streak – survey

A majority of American Roman Catholics feel strongly about the sacraments and traditional church values such as caring for the poor, but they may not agree with the church teachings on topics such as abortion, same-sex marriage and maintaining a celibate, male clergy, a survey has found.

The “Catholics in America” survey of Roman Catholics published by the National Catholic Reporter found 86 percent said Catholics can disagree with aspects of church teaching and still remain loyal to the church.

“Stated in simplest terms, Catholics in the past 25 years have become more autonomous when making decisions about important moral issues; less reliant on official teaching in reaching those decisions; and less deferential to the authority of the Vatican and individual bishops,” according to the study led by William D’Antonio, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America.

from Photographers' Blog:

Two sides of a living God

By Navesh Chitrakar

Born and raised in Kathmandu's Newar community I am familiar with Lord Ganesh. His elephant head attached to a human body makes him easy to identify. Ganesh is honored at the beginning of rituals and ceremonies as we celebrate religious festivals.

This month, I had the opportunity to take pictures of Living God Ganesh after I asked one of my friends who was close to the living god's family. I was pleased and surprised that the family was willing to accept me since they don’t normally allow pictures to be taken.

The first thing I saw was a six-year-old boy sitting on the sofa and yawning. The boy was the living god but he looked totally different from how he had looked when I saw him on the streets during festivals. In his home, the sofa was his throne.

Iran-born writer “kills” ayatollah in novel

A general view of Iran's late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's shrine with pictures of him and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran

GIJON, Spain – Nairi Nahapetian gets her own back on the Iranian regime which forced her into exile by writing a novel about the murder of a powerful religious leader.

Nahapetian returned to Iran as a journalist in 2005 but says that she had to turn to fiction to fully describe the complexities of the homeland she fled when she was nine.