FaithWorld

GUESTVIEW: Are Catholics masochists?

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Notre Dame de Fourvière Basilica, Lyon/Frédéric de La Mure

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Isabelle de Gaulmyn is Religion Editor of the Paris Catholic daily newspaper La Croix and author of Benoît XVI, Le pape incompris (Benedict XVI, The Misunderstood Pope). She blogs in French at Une foi par semaine, where this first appeared.

Are Catholics masochists? After all that’s been happening these days, this looks like the question to ask. There were probably more than 3 million Catholics in France who went to church to celebrate Palm Sunday today. And during this Holy Week, millions more will to prepare for Easter. If the news we hear is anything to go by, these Catholics must be either mad or masochistic.

la croix uneWhy not take advantage of this Sunday to go fishing or play tennis rather than frequent a place full of pedophile priests and leaders who lie  and hush up the truth? How can there still be people in the pews, on pilgrimages, in monasteries or volunteering in one of many charities?

And what about the adults who will be baptised as Catholics on Saturday evening?*  Are they thoughtless, suicidal or stupid? In short, are Catholics “the blind being led to slaughter,” as was written in a militant secularist pamphlet dropped into my mail box?

These are legitimate questions if we go by the image of the Church found in the media now. It’s no surprise that the media focuses on the real flaws and shortcomings of the Church. But it makes Catholics feel hopeless and hurt to see their Church presented in a way that has little in common with what they experience daily in their own faith communities.

US charities hit by recession’s impact on spending

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Mealtime at the Capucin Soup Kitchen in Detroit, Detroit, 9 Dec 2008/Carlos Barria

Thousands of small U.S. charities are likely to close this year as cautious donors and governments tighten spending and some states consider removing nonprofit tax breaks, experts said during a panel discussion on “The New Nonprofit Reality” on Wednesday.

“States are looking for any opportunity for tax revenue this year and nonprofits are increasingly a very big target,” said Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Obama’s boyhood Jakarta home district sees shift to stricter Islam

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Indonesian Muslims pray at the Istiqlal Grand Mosque in Jakarta 9 March/Supri

Some things in the central Jakarta district of Matraman have barely changed since the late 1960s, when United States President Barack Obama lived and played there.  Old men train their racing pigeons on the badminton court and screaming children chase each other through the winding, grimy alleyways. But if Obama does decide to drop by his old neighborhood when he visits Indonesia next week, he may notice change around the community’s mosque.

The local mosque has become a meeting spot for members of the small but vocal Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), an extremist group famous for smashing up bars that serve alcohol and which made headlines when its followers assaulted several elderly men and women at a peaceful interfaith rally in 2008.

“Now there are so many radicals around here. We don’t agree with them but there’s definitely more than there was before,” said Ali Rully, a pensioner who was a high school student when little “Barry” Obama lived here.

Q+A – Does Dalai Lama meeting help or hurt Obama?

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Dalai Lama in a 11 Nov 2009 file photo in India/Adnan Abidi

U.S. President Barack Obama will meet the Dalai Lama on Thursday after avoiding a get-together before his China trip last year. The White House visit by the Tibetan Buddhist leader comes at a time of increased tension between the United States and China, which has warned that the session will hurt Sino-U.S. ties.

Since 1990 every U.S. president has met the Dalai Lama at the White House. President George H.W. Bush started the tradition after the Chinese authorities crushed student-led pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and an uprising in Tibet.

Is this a meeting Obama could do without? Will it help him burnish his human rights credentials? Examine these and other questions about the visit in this question-and-answer piece from our Washington bureau.

Pew dissects U.S. “Millennials” on issues of faith and culture

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has just issued a report that examines issues of faith and culture among Americans between the age of 18 and 29 — a demographic group that has been dubbed the “Millennials” because most came of age around 2000. You can see our story here and the report here.

A couple of things come to mind. One is the finding that Millennials were far more likely than their elders from “Generation X” and the “Baby Boom” to be unaffiliated with a specific faith. In the context of recent American history, Generation X was born between 1965 and 1980, while Baby Boomers flooded the country from 1946 to 1964.

The report found one-in-four American Millennials unaffiliated with any specific faith, compared to 20 percent of Generation Xers at a comparable point in their lives (the late 1990s). Only 13 percent of Baby Boomers were religiously “unaffiliated” in the late 1970s when they were roughly the age Millennials are now.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

“My Life with the Taliban” – on study and Islamic values

zaeefIn  "My Life with the Taliban",  Abdul Salam Zaeef -- who fought with the mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan and later served in the Taliban government before it was ousted in 2001 -- writes of how he longed to escape the trappings of office and instead follow in the footsteps of his father as the Imam of a mosque, learning and teaching the Koran.

"It is work that has no connection with the world's affairs. It is a calling of intellectual dignity away from the dangers and temptations of power. All my life, even as a boy, I was always happiest when studying and learning things. To work in government positions means a life surrounded by corruption and injustice, and therein is found the misery of mankind," he writes in his memoirs, newly translated and edited by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn.

Zaeef became best known as the Taliban ambassador to Islamabad at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks -- he was then arrested and sent to Guantanamo -- and his memoirs provide a unique insight into the developments which led to the eight-year-old war in Afghanistan.  That alone makes it a must-read, providing an alternative and very personal account to set alongside Western concepts of the Taliban -- more closely associated with their human rights record, their treatment of women, and their refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden to the United States after 9/11.

POLL: the right verdict in slain Kansas abortion doctor case?

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Scott Roeder in undated booking photograph released to Reuters on 12 June 2009/Wichita Police

A man accused of gunning down one of America’s few late-term abortion providers was found guilty of first-degree murder on Friday after he said he had to act to stop the doctor from performing more abortions. Give us your opinion in the online poll below.

The judge initially allowed Roeder’s defense team to argue for a voluntary manslaughter conviction by proving he had “an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force.”

U.S. televangelist Pat Robertson says Haiti cursed by devil pact

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Haiti's Presidential Palace after the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, 12 Jan 2010/Reuters TV video grab

Controversial U.S. televangelist Pat Robertson said on Wednesday that earth-quake devastated Haiti was cursed because of a past pact that the island’s inhabitants had made with the devil.  The comments, which have spread like wildfire through the blogosphere and eslewhere on the Internet, were made during a broadcast of his Christian Broadcasting Network.

“They were under the heel of the French … and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, ‘We will serve you if you’ll get us free from the French.’ True story,” Robertson said in a matter-of-fact tone on the broadcast.
“And so the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal. .. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another,” he said.

Religion now hottest topic of study for U.S. historians – AHA survey

nypl 1Religion has become the hottest topic of study for U. S. historians, overtaking the previous favourite — cultural studies — and pulling ahead of women’s studies in the latest annual survey by the American Historical Association. Younger historians are more likely than older ones to turn their sights on faith issues.

The proportion of U.S. historians working on religious issues now stands at 7.7%. If that seems low, compare it with the more traditional fields in the study of the past — political history (4.6%), military history (3.8%) or diplomatic history (3.8%). Cultural studies stood at 7.5% and women’s studies at 6.4%.

Among the reasons cited by the AHA were:

    Interest in the rise of “more activist (and in some cases ‘militant’) forms of religion.” An “extension of the methods and interests of social and cultural history.” The impact of the “historical turn” in other disciplines, including religious studies. Increased student demand for courses on the subject.
The AHA report has some interesting quotes from professors in the field:
    “I think the category has become more popular because historians realize that the world is aflame with faith, yet our traditional ways of dealing with modern history especially can’t explain how or why,” said Jon Butler, a professor of history, religious studies and American studies at Yale University. “The ‘secularization thesis’ appears to have failed and so we need to find ways to explain how and why it didn’t die as so much written history suggests.” “I came to recognize that (expressions of faith) were woven into just about every aspect of life, not separate subjects I could leave for another time or someone else,” said  University of California at Berkeley historian William Taylor. “My ongoing research and writing about religious matters continues to be carried out in this spirit—not as a field apart, but as integral to my reckonings with how people then understood their lives and acted upon those convictions.” Jeanne Kilde of the University of Minnesota said “students in the late 1990s began coming to class with questions about religion” due to its influence on recent elections, growing attention in the media and an increase in public displays of religion.
nypl 2Given this blog’s focus in religion in the public sphere, this general trend of growing interest in religion isn’t anything new to us. What is interesting is that this is spreading in academia. A hat tip goes to The Immanent Frame blog, which also ran its own series of reactions from historians to this news. Here’s a sample from David A. Hollinger at Berkeley:  “Religion is too important to be left in the hands of people who believe in it. Finally, historians are coming to grips with this simple truth.” (Photos: New York Public Library, 14 Dec 2004/Mike Segar) Follow FaithWorld on Twitter at RTRFaithWorld

Nigeria bomber’s home town blames foreign schooling

For residents in his home town, it was Umar Abdulmutallab’s foreign education, not his roots in Muslim northern Nigeria, that radicalized him and led him to try to blow up a U.S. passenger plane.

The 23-year-old London-educated Nigerian was charged on Saturday in the United States with trying to blow up Northwest Airlines flight 253 as it approached Detroit from Amsterdam on Christmas Day with almost 300 people on board.

The son of a highly respected banker, Abdulmutallab’s actions shocked Nigeria’s wealthy elite and residents in his family’s predominantly Muslim northern hometown of Funtua.