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.

Long trial of U.S. Islamic charity ends in convictions

Seven years after it was shut in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, a leading U.S. Islamic charity and five men linked to it have been convicted on numerous terrorist financing charges related to the funnelling of over $12 million to the militant Palestinian group Hamas. You can read our report here.

The guilty verdicts delivered on Monday by a federal jury in Dallas cap an arduous process that included a debacle last year that saw a mistrial on most of the counts, leading to this year’s lengthy retrial. Many years of investigation and probably millions of dollars in tax payer money went into the case against the Holy Land Foundation that finally resulted in a rare judicial victory for the out-going administration of U.S. President George W. Bush in its efforts to curtail the financing of overseas organisations it considers to be terrorist.

The stakes were high — a failure to secure convictions this time round would have probably brought the whole affair to an end. Investigators and prosecutors may now have more confidence to bring similar cases to trial down the road.

Confusion over pope’s letter saying interfaith talks impossible

“Pope questions interfaith dialogue,” read a headline on a New York Times report this morning. “In comments on Sunday that could have broad implications in a period of intense religious conflict,”, it wrote, Pope Benedict said that dialogue between religions was impossible. Before noon, a New York rabbi was urgently appealing to Benedict XVI not to “abandon dialogue between faith communities.”

Readers following the recent upswing in interfaith contacts will recall the last time Benedict’s relations with other faiths were in the news was when he warmly received Islamic scholars on Nov. 6 in Rome and spoke of Christians and Muslims as “members of one family: the family that God has loved and gathered together from the creation of the world to the end of human history.” How could he now suggest that talks across faith lines are useless? (Photo: Pope Benedict greets Bosnian Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric at the Vatican, 6 Nov 2008/Osservatore Romano)

If these readers wonder what’s going on, they’re not alone. We’ve been getting queries from contacts asking how to read a letter written by Benedict that was published in the Milan daily Corriere della Sera on Sunday and got almost no coverage other than in the New York Times. What’s going on is that the Gray Lady has confused the philosophical precision of a German theologian and the real-world pragmatism of the Roman Catholic Church. That theologian, better known as Pope Benedict, restated his definition of interreligious dialogue in the letter to Italian politician and philosopher Marcello Pena. As the NYT reported, he said that “an interreligious dialogue in the strict sense of the word is not possible.” In theological terms, added the pope, “a true dialogue is not possible without putting one’s faith in parentheses.”

Pew report looks at media coverage of faith in U.S. election

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and its sister organization The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life have just released a study on the media coverage of religion in the 2008 U.S. presidential election. A summary of the findings with links to the whole report can be found here.

“Religion played a much more significant role in the media coverage of President-elect Barack Obama than it did in the press treatment of Republican nominee John McCain during the 2008 presidential campaign, but much of the coverage related to false yet persistent rumors that Obama is a Muslim,” Pew said.

It added that there was scant scrutiny of the role of personal faith in the shaping of the candidates’ political values with the exception of Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

U.S. and Canadian Jews, Muslims seek dialogue

Muslim and Jewish leaders across the United States and Canada plan to meet this weekend to discuss ways to fight anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia.

The meetings and panel discussions from Friday to Sunday — dubbed the Weekend of Twinning — are part of a broader movement of interfaith dialogue taking place against a global backdrop of tensions between religious groups.

Several of the rabbis and imams have broadcast a public service announcement on CNN appealing for interfaith understanding (see the video above) and published a full-page ad in the New York Times available here in PDF form.

WashPost column: “Armband religion killing Republican Party”

Has religion turned into a vote loser in U.S. elections? In covering the U.S. presidential campaign, most analysts took religion as an important vote-getting factor and asked which candidate was appealing most to which religious group. Much was made about how the Democrats were more comfortable with “Godtalk” on the trail.

Now Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker has asked whether religion has turned into a serious vote loser for the more faith-friendly party, the Republicans:

“The evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy branch of the GOP is what ails the erstwhile conservative party and will continue to afflict and marginalize its constituents if reckoning doesn’t soon cometh. Simply put: Armband religion is killing the Republican Party … the GOP has surrendered its high ground to its lowest brows. In the process, the party has alienated its non-base constituents, including other people of faith (those who prefer a more private approach to worship), as well as secularists and conservative-leaning Democrats who otherwise might be tempted to cross the aisle.”

A new twist on the “Is Obama a Christian?” debate

The “Is Obama a Christian?” discussion is starting up again, this time not by people who suspect he’s a Muslim but those who think he’s a phony follower of Jesus Christ. The occasion for this is the posting on Beliefnet of an interview he gave to the Chicago Sun Times in 2004, while he was still an Illinois state senator. Conservative Christians have taken his religious views as proof he’s not a real Christian, but there’s support from a more liberal corner for his views.

That there is disagreement isn’t really a surprise. Theologians have been debating who is a Christian almost since the dawn of the faith and still dispute where the dividing lines lie. What is more interesting is that critics are picking apart his views — or purported views — on theological issues that have no obvious importance for his job as president. (Photo: Obama at Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, June 15, 2008/John Gress)

Bloggers Joe Carter and Rod Dreher read in Obama’s interview a denial of the Nicene Creed since he called Jesus “a bridge between God and man” rather than clearly saying he is the Son of God (hat tip to Steve Waldman). “Unless Obama was being incredibly and uncharacteristically inarticulate, this is heterodox. You cannot be a Christian in any meaningful sense and deny the divinity of Jesus Christ. You just can’t,” Dreher writes. Has Obama denied the divinity of Jesus Christ here? That’s not clear here. Another point that Carter notes is that he doesn’t believe that people who have not embraced Jesus as their personal saviour will automatically go to hell. “I can’t imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity. That’s just not part of my religious makeup,” he said.

Christian Science Monitor to shut down daily print edition

For the past 30 years or more, I have unintentionally been disappointing Christian Scientists on a regular basis. Whenever I was in the United States and came across a Christian Science Reading Room, I walked in and asked for the latest copy of the Christian Science Monitor. Behind the desk was usually a kindly older man or woman, probably a retired volunteer, and they seemed happy to see a young (and then not so young) person dropping by. They seemed even more pleased when I also took copies from the day before or the day before that. They often asked how I knew the paper and I’d say I used to subscribe when I was a grad student in Boston. With a kindly smile, they would then inquire if I was a Christian Scientist or wanted to learn more about Christian Science. I would say no, thank you very much, and leave.

I thought about these people today when I heard that the Christian Science Monitor will scrap its daily print run for web-only edition in April 2009 (plus a weekly in print). It’s been struggling for a while and circulation has fallen from the levels back in the early ’70s when I read it daily. But it continued to publish high-quality journalism and I enjoyed picking up a copy or two whenever I came across it.

For a church-related publication, the Monitor was curious in that it did not promote its own faith in its pages (apart, perhaps, from its lack of obituaries). There was just one daily religious feature on the Home Forum page, towards the back of the paper. Otherwise, it focused on serious analytical reporting of national and international news, especially foreign stories that mainstream American newspapers were not good at covering. It was a must-read for anyone interested in world affairs.

Muslims and the U.S. election — two sobering reminders

Muslims protest against Iraq war at Republican convention in St. Paul 1 Sept 2008/Damir SagoljTwo Reuters colleagues in the United States have written sobering accounts of the place of Muslims and Islam in the U.S. presidential election campaign.

“These are uneasy times for America’s Muslims, caught in a backwash from a presidential election campaign where the false notion that Barack Obama is Muslim has been seized on by some who link Islam with terrorism,” writes Chicago religion writer Mike Conlon in “Sour note for American Muslims in election campaign.”

“Incidents during the U.S. presidential election campaign, now in its final sprint towards November 4, show that fear and suspicion of Muslims persist undiminished and are being used as a political weapon,” writes Washington columnist Bernd Debusmann in “In U.S. elections, fear of Muslims.”

Storm in a cappuccino cup? 106-year-old nun supports Obama

Sister Cecelia Gaudette/CBS photoSister Cecilia Gaudette is an American Catholic nun who is spunky despite her 106 years.  She was born in Manchester, New Hampshire on March 25, 1902 — when Republican Teddy Roosevelt was president  — and has been living (until recently) in obscurity in a convent in Rome.  The last time she voted was in 1952, for Dwight Eisenhower, another Republican. Now she is voting for Barack Obama. Read the Reuters story here and watch the CBS video to find out why.

Not surprisingly, the blogosphere has reacted with both praise and condemnation for Gaudette for backing a candidate who supports abortion rights.  Some readers even see the story as a kind of covert media campaigning for Obama. Last month a Roman Catholic with a much higher profile,  Archbishop Raymond Burke, a senior American official at the Vatican, caused a stir when he said the Democratic Party risked becoming a “party of death” because of its choices on abortion, embryonic stem cells and other bioethical questions.

With the Obama button on her habit and little American flag in hand, Sister Cecelia seems to be a perfect subject for a nice little story. Is that all this is? Or do you think her critics are right to read much more into this?