FaithWorld

A list of Top 10 lists – “it was the election, stupid”

“Top 10 Stories” lists are a perennial feature,  especially in the United States (which explains a lot of the picks below). Now that they’re all out there, I took a quick look at the “Top 10 Religion Stories 2008″ lists to see if any pattern emerged. Of course one did: “It was the election, stupid.” Even a website dedicated to pagan news found a “pagans and politics” angle to top its list.

The Religion Newswriters Association, which polls member religion reporters, has been drawing up such lists for about 30 years. Election-related stories swept the top three slots last year. They did the same in 2004 as well, but the election shared the top spot back then with Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ movie. The election-dominated lists show some divergences, but the most interesting compilations were the more specialised ones down in the second list below.

Here’s a quick list of the Top 10 lists, first those dominated by the U.S. election and then others I actually found more interesting: Religion Newswriters Association Top 10 Religion Stories – Obama’s pastor Jeremiah Wright
Christianity Today’s Top 10 News Stories – Democrats woo evangelical voters
TIME Magazine’s Top 10 Religion Stories – Economy trumps religion in U.S. election
Baptist Press Top 10 list – Obama elected president
Top 10 Religion Stories Impacting Evangelicals and Fundamentalists in 2008 – Sarah Palin Crosswalk’s Top 10 Christian News Stories – Rick Warren’s Civic Forum
Church & State Magazine’s Top 10 list – the role of religion in the U.S. campaign
Michael Paulson 10 reflections on 2008 – U.S. election dominates the year Top 10 Pagan Stories of 2008 (1-5, 6-10) – rise in news about pagans and politics - John Allen’s Top 10 Neglected Catholic Stories – Crisis in India
Juan Cole’s Top 10 Good News stories in the Muslim world – Pakistani lawyers’ protests
Christianity Today’s Top 10 Theology Stories – Publishers make 2008 the “Year of the Study Bible” The top 10 good news stories of 2008 from altmuslim – Obama wins, Islamophobia loses Progressive Revival blog on 10 Worst Religion Stories – faiths fail to stop world hunger - Google hasn’t been very helpful finding Top 10 lists from outside the U.S. Do you have any from other countries with a different take on what the most important stories were?

Can policymakers use Darwin’s insights? New twist on old debate

The latest issue of The Economist has a provocative essay on Darwinism asking if Charles Darwin’s insights can be used profitably by policymakers. You can read it online here.

America … executes around 40 people a year for murder. Yet it still has a high murder rate. Why do people murder each other when they are almost always caught and may, in America at least, be killed themselves as a result?” it asks.

It goes on to ask why men still earn more than women 40 years after the feminist revolution and why racism persists.

A one-stop shop for the latest on Islamic creationism

Readers of this blog know of our interest in Islamic creationism and its leading spokesman, Adnan Oktar (pseudonym: Harun Yahya), interviewed here last June. Over at Science and Religion News, Salman Hameed has been posting comprehensive updates to this story including articles by himself and others. Hameed, an astronomer and assistant professor of science and humanities at Hampshire College in Massachusetts, is working on creationism in today’s Islamic world and how Muslims see science and religion. (Photo: Harun Yahya, 21 May 2008/Osman Orsal)

Hameed’s blog is a kind of one-stop shop for anyone interested in this topic. Since he’s posted several items in recent weeks, here’s a quick index:

Lots of advice for Obama on dealing with Muslims and Islam

President-elect Barack Obama has been getting a lot of advice these days on how to deal with Muslims and Islam. He invited it by saying during his campaign that he either wanted to convene a conference with leaders of Muslim countries or deliver a major speech in a Muslim country “to reboot America’s image around the world and also in the Muslim world in particular”. But where? when? why? how? Early this month, I chimed in with a pitch for a speech in Turkey or Indonesia.  Some quite interesting comments have come in since then. (Photo: Obama image in Jakarta, 25 Oct 2008/Dadang Tri)

Two French academics, Islam expert Olivier Roy and political scientist Justin Vaisse argued in a New York Times op-ed piece on Sunday that Obama’s premise of trying to reconcile the West and Islam is flawed:

Such an initiative would reinforce the all-too-accepted but false notion that “Islam” and “the West” are distinct entities with utterly different values. Those who want to promote dialogue and peace between “civilizations” or “cultures” concede at least one crucial point to those who, like Osama bin Laden, promote a clash of civilizations: that separate civilizations do exist. They seek to reverse the polarity, replacing hostility with sympathy, but they are still following Osama bin Laden’s narrative.

When it’s better to lead with the economy than with the innuendo

President-elect Barack Obama gave a wide-ranging interview to the Chicago Tribune , offering his hometown daily a scoop that forced other journalists to choose which angle to highlight in their reports on it. Reuters chose to lead  with his comment that the most pressing problem right now was to “stabilize the patient” and save the U.S. economy from losing millions of jobs. I agree this is the key message he sent in this interview and deserved to take top billing. So I was surprised to see how many news organisations went with a different angle. (Photo: Obama in Chicago, 9 Dec 2008/Jeff Haynes)

“Obama to take the oath of office using his middle name”“At inauguration, it will be Barack Hussein Obama: interview” “I, Barack Hussein Obama” — several news organisations led off with the fact that Obama would be sworn in under his full name. What did they expect? That he would kowtow to his campaign critics who pointedly called him Barack Hussein Obama but didn’t have the courage to say what they were hinting at, i.e. that this self-confessed Christian was a “covert Muslim” or “Muslim apostate” and therefore unreliable?

Given the context of the campaign, the fact that Obama has not been cowed is interesting. We mentioned it in the third paragraph, the Chicago Tribune in the second. But let’s ask if making this the lead, putting it at the top of the whole story, gives the whispering campaign against him much more importance than it is due?

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:

TIME magazine lists its 10 top religion stories of 2008

TIME magazine has come out with its list of the 10 top religion stories of 2008. The winner is a story about how religion did not tip the balance in the U.S. presidential election. U.S. media often publish this kind of list at the end of the year. Are there similar lists out there from other countries? Please let us know if you see them elsewhere.

Here are TIME’s top 10:

1. The Economy Trumps Religion 2. Never Count the Mormons Out

3. The Pope Wows the States 4. The Canterbury non-Tale

5. America’s Unfaithful Faith

6. Tibet’s Monks Rebel

7. The Birth of the New Evangelicalism

8. The Challenge of Recession

9. When Kosher Wasn’t Kosher

10. Extraterrestrials May Already be Saved

Obama wants to address the Muslim world — but from where?

Now here’s an interesting question. The New York Times reports that President-elect Barack Obama wants to make “a major foreign policy speech from an Islamic capital during his first 100 days in office.” But from which one? As NYT staffer Helene Cooper explains, it’s a question that’s fraught with diplomatic, religious and personal complications. After a day of calling around Washington, she found a consensus:

It’s got to be Cairo. Egypt is perfect. It’s certainly Muslim enough, populous enough and relevant enough. It’s an American ally, but there are enough tensions in the relationship that the choice will feel bold. The country has plenty of democracy problems, so Mr. Obama can speak directly to the need for a better democratic model there. It has got the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist organization that has been embraced by a wide spectrum of the Islamic world, including the disenfranchised and the disaffected. (Photo: Obama image in Jakarta, 25 Oct 2008/Dadang Tri)

That’s a diplomatic answer, the kind you’d expect to get inside the Washington Beltway. Let’s look at this more from the point of view of religion. If the American president gives a major speech in a Muslim country, it will be seen as an indirect comment on the type of mosque-state relations found in that country. It’s not for him as a non-Muslim to endorse a certain type of Islam over another, say Sunni over Shi’ite. But as a politician from a country where church-state relations are a lively issue, one could expect him to ask what message his choice will send concerning the political relationship with religion in the state he chooses.

GUESTVIEW: Mumbai violence brings New York faith groups together

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. Matthew Weiner, the author, is the Program Director at the Interfaith Center of New York. He is writing a book about Interfaith and Civil Society.

When terror attacks like those in Mumbai occur, many people of faith want to stand together despite their differences to condemn them with one voice. Faith leaders in New York, having seen their own city targetted in 2001, quickly responded with a show of support for their sister city in India. Their news conference on the steps of New York’s City Hall on Monday was an example of how faith communities in the world’s most religiously diverse metropolis can join hands to speak out against such violence. (Photo: New York interfaith meeting, 1 Dec 2008/Edwin E. Bobrow)

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, senior vice-president of the New York Board of Rabbis, Mo Razvi, a Pakistani-American Muslim and community organizer, and the Interfaith Center of New York organized the meeting while Councilman John Liu got the green light to use City Hall as the venue. Potasnick worked through Thanksgiving weekend to make it happen and insisted on having representatives from every faith. “It is very important to condemn the attacks…but it is imperative we stand together with one voice,” he said.

Tragic end to hostage drama at Mumbai Jewish centre

The two-day hostage drama at Mumbai’s Jewish centre ended tragically on Friday when Indian anti-terrorist forces stormed Chabad House, the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish community center, only to find Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg and three other hostages had been killed by Islamist gunmen.

The Israeli-born rabbi, who grew up in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn in New York, arrived in Mumbai in 2003 with his Israeli wife to serve the small Jewish community there, running a synagogue and Torah classes, and assisting Jewish tourists in the seaside city. (Photo: Indian anti-terrorist commando lowered down to Mumbai’s Nariman House, where Chabad House was located, 28 Nov 2008/stringer)

We have been filing the story from Mumbai and New York, but inevitably the rest of the Mumbai drama — the clearing of the Trident-Oberoi hotel and the continued fighting at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel — has competed with space in our updates. If you’re looking for more information, the Holtzbergs’ Chabad Lubavitch communities in Crown Heights and in Mumbai have been posting extensive information on their websites: