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Voltaire2's Journal
Voltaire2's Journal
December 31, 2017

The Year of Love Jihad in India

more about the status of religious tolerance in Kerala

In 2011, when Akhila Ashokan was eighteen, she left her home in T. V. Puram, a village in Kerala, for college in Salem, a busy town seven hours to the east. Her father, K. M. Ashokan, was an ex-military man; her mother, Ponnamma, a practicing Hindu. In Salem, Akhila studied homeopathy, boarding with five women, including two Muslim sisters, Jaseena and Faseena, with whom she studied, cooked, and talked. Akhila watched them pray. Soon after—it is unclear when, exactly—Akhila started to read books and watch videos that helped her understand Islam. Feeling the stirrings of a new faith, she began to pray. In 2015, she decided to call herself Aasiya.

To her father, Akhila seemed a changed person in November, 2015, when she returned home for a funeral. She was quiet and reserved, reluctant to join in the rituals. After the funeral, Aasiya resolved to declare her new faith, and returned to school wearing a hijab. Her mother, when she heard of the conversion, told Aasiya that her father had broken his leg and asked her to come home to see him. But Aasiya, wise to the extravagant emotional blackmail of Indian parents, refused. She began a residential program for new converts at Sathya Sarani, a religious institute in Kerala; took yet another name, Hadiya; and registered a profile on waytonikah.com, a Muslim matrimonial site, where she noticed a man, bearded and lean, who worked at a pharmacy in Muscat, Oman. Shafin Jahan played goalkeeper for the F.C. Kerala soccer team, had a sweet smile, quoted Shakespeare, and hashtagged all his posts on Instagram. She met him, and then his family. Jahan’s Instagram went from pictures of food and football to photos of open skies and sunsets.

Even before Hadiya and Jahan got married, last December, Ashokan had taken his concerns to court, arguing that the people behind his daughter’s conversion had “unlimited resources in finances as well as manpower” and were enabling “illegal and forceful conversions.” His counsel argued that Hadiya, then twenty-four, was in “a vulnerable position from which she is necessary [sic] to be rescued and handed over to the petitioner.” Ashokan was convinced that Jahan, who had ties to the radical-Muslim Popular Front of India political party, was sent to disappear his daughter, and was backed by a shadowy organization with links to the Islamic State. (“I can’t have a terrorist in my family,” he said.) The judgment from the Kerala High Court, which came in the last week of May this year, sided with Ashokan. “In the first place, it is not normal for a young girl in her early 20s, pursuing a professional course, to abandon her studies and to set out in pursuit of learning an alien faith and religion,” the judges wrote. They were clearly unimpressed by Hadiya, a “gullible” and “ordinary girl of moderate intellectual capacity,” who had “apparently memorized” Arabic verses. Hadiya’s five-month marriage to Jahan was annulled; Hadiya was put in the care of her parents.

The New Yorker
December 31, 2017

"Active shooter" - we are having yet another of our entirely preventable episodes of gun violence.

The phrase bothers me. But really it fits. The rest of the gun nuts with their arsenals are just "inactive shooters".

December 31, 2017

All Paths Lead to Magical Thinking

In recent years, psychologists have come to understand religion and paranormal belief as resulting, in most people, from simple errors in reasoning. You believe in God or astrology or a purpose in life because you apply ideas about people—that they have thoughts and intentions—to the natural world. Some display this tendency more than others, but it’s there in everyone, even atheistic heathens like me. What has not been clarified is exactly how the various cognitive biases interact to produce specific ideas about the supernatural—until now.

In the November 2013 issue of Cognition, Aiyana Willard and Ara Norenzayan of the University of British Columbia report on the relative influence of three cognitive tendencies on three types of supernatural belief, as well as the role of cultural influence.

Several studies show that people who think more intuitively are also more susceptible to magical thinking. One intuition that’s been proposed as a foundation for religious thought is Cartesian mind-body dualism, the idea that a mind can exist independently of a body. (See chapter 5 of my book, The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: “The Soul Lives On.”) This proposition allows for souls, ghosts, spirits, and Gods, all made of disembodied mind-stuff. Explanations for dualism include belief in free will and the mutual inhibition of brain areas responsible for pondering feelings and physics.

Another psychological process related to mysticism is anthropomorphism, the tendency to apply human-like traits to non-human entities or concepts. (See chapter 6 of my book: “The World is Alive.”) God or the Universe is hearing your prayers. Your laptop meant to crash during your presentation. Your dog understands you. Anthropomorphism can be motivated by loneliness or the need to predict and control our environment. It’s a form of pattern-seeking in which the pattern is another coherent mind.

A third process involved in magical thinking is teleological reasoning, seeing a purpose (telos, Greek for end) in objects or events. (See chapter 7: “Everything Happens for a Reason.”) Many things have a purpose (chairs, weddings). Many don’t (the Grand Canyon, hurricanes), but we sometimes feel like they do. Again, searching for purposes is a way to understand and ultimately control the world around us.

More here: Psychology Today
December 30, 2017

Police arrest alleged 'Nigerian prince' email scammer in Louisiana USA TODAY NETWORK

Finally. Now all the emails will stop.

A Louisiana man was arrested in connection with the "Nigerian prince" scheme that has scammed people out of thousands of dollars, police announced Thursday.

Michael Neu, 67, faces 269 counts of wire fraud and money laundering after being taken into custody following an 18-month investigation, according to the Slidell Police Department. Police said Neu is suspected of being the scam's "middle man" who obtained money and "subsequently wired" funds to his co-conspirators in Nigeria.

But wait here's his picture:
December 29, 2017

Why the killing fields of Kerala only draw collective silence (even from BJP)

The rising tide of political, communal violence diminishes the reputation of a state that has led the country across a swathe of parameters.

The murder of a BJP worker named Santhosh in Kannur last week is the latest in a symphony of orchestrated political violence that has made Kerala a tinderbox of religious fundamentalism.

Over 44 per cent of Keralites are minorities — the highest ratio in India after Jammu & Kashmir. Over 25 per cent are Muslims. Another 19 per cent are Christians.

Kannur is a symbol of the inflammatory potential of mixing politics with religion. An ancient trading city with deep links to the Arabs and Persians, Kannur was ruled by a Muslim dynasty, the Arakkal Sultanate. Along historically with imports of Arab spices and timber, it has in recent years imported strains of Wahabism from the Middle East.

Santhosh was allegedly killed by CPI(M) activists in his own house at Andaloor in Dharmadam which ironically is Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s own constituency. Kannur has given Kerala two chief ministers — K Karunakaran and EK Nayanar. It is a politically volatile district. Muslims comprise 38 per cent of its population. Five out of 20 ministers in the Kerala cabinet are from Kannur — including the chief minister.

December 29, 2017

"0% of Outreachs 100 Largest churches have affirming LGBTQ+ policies"

Church Clarity has released new data which scores the 100 largest churches in America in 2017 as featured in the Christian publication, Outreach Magazine. In addition to scoring for clarity of LGBTQ+ policy, the data also covers racial and gender diversity among senior pastors.

Here are the highlights of what we've found:

Only 35% have CLEAR LGBTQ+ policies on the main pages of the websites

65% of these church websites either obscure policy language
(54% UNCLEAR) or entirely omit (11% UNDISCLOSED)
their actively enforced LGBTQ+ policies.

43% are non-denominational churches; only 3 in 10 have clear LGBTQ+ policies.

7% are led by a senior pastor of color
(people of color are 38% of US population)

1% are led by a senior female pastor, who is a co-pastor with her husband (women are 50% of the US population and 8% of Fortune 100 CEOs)

December 29, 2017

From Trump's evangelicals to witches to Roy Moore: how religion shaped 2017

And what to expect from 2018.
By Tara Isabella [email protected]@vox.com Dec 29, 2017, 9:00am EST

There’s little reason to be optimistic in 2018

When it comes to the rise of Christian nationalism and the increase in hate crimes alike, there’s little reason to believe anything will necessarily improve next year. Even if the Trump administration does collapse, there is little reason to be optimistic about how it will affect ethnoreligious minorities in America.

The greatest trick Christian nationalists — or their more explicit cousins to the right, white nationalists — have up their sleeve is to claim they are being persecuted. Central to the narrative of Christian nationalism in the White House, no less than the explicitly white nationalist protests in Charlottesville, is the idea that the “liberal media” and “PC police” have banded together to silence the “true” speakers of truth — a dynamic that, in the rhetoric of Christian nationalism, turns into a full-on war between good and evil (just consider how Roy Moore’s defenders compared him to Jesus during the last days of his campaign).

Trump and his evangelical advisers have been seeding this rhetoric into his presidency since the beginning. And if Trump’s administration does genuinely come under threat, according to the narrative Trump and his administration have established, his supporters are, at least implicitly, divinely bound to rise up and defend it.

More here: VOX
December 22, 2017

Losing Her Religion

A Memoir
By Tova Mirvis
302 pp. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $26.

Modern Orthodox Judaism — a loosely defined sect that adheres to the strictures of Jewish Scripture, while engaging with the broader world, intellectually and economically — has always been something of a paradox: It embraces modernity and, at the same time, lives by the dictums of an ancient system. Tova Mirvis’s memoir, “The Book of Separation,” chronicles this paradox, and many others, in an intimate tale of leaving a community that served as the literary inspiration for her first two novels, and the bulwark of her life.

Mirvis’s story is less stark than recent memoirs of leaving ultra-Orthodox sects; Modern Orthodoxy, by definition, allows more mingling with the outside world. Nonetheless, her narrative is one of deep heartache, both in the predeparture attempt to quiet her own objections to the faith, and in the self-willed abandonment of certainty that departure requires. Early in the book, Mirvis writes about a childhood objection to the biblical verse that commanded Adam to rule over Eve; her mother quieted her objections with alternative explanations. Mirvis muses about the contradictions she felt: “The text couldn’t be wrong; the rabbis couldn’t be wrong. If sexism was wrong, the text couldn’t be sexist. … The laws couldn’t change, the words couldn’t change — nothing, in fact, could change — yet you could turn the words, reframe them, and reshape them, do anything so that you could still fit inside.”

The struggle to fit inside takes up much of the book, which skips from the aftermath of Mirvis’s divorce from her husband and her faith back to the genesis of that faith, and of her marriage. Mirvis’s tale is one of privilege — a prosperous Memphis upbringing, college at Columbia, graduate school in creative writing — run through with a red thread of anguish. In many ways, to those of Modern Orthodox background, it is a deeply familiar story: She attended an Orthodox school, studied Jewish texts for a year in Israel, got engaged at 22 to an Orthodox man after 12 weeks of dating and lived under the watchful eye of a tight-knit, conformist community. (A Jewish marriage manual she read during her engagement had a chapter entitled “Thoughts to Banish.” “I wanted to scream,” Mirvis writes.) The choking tangle of laws that dictate how to handle everything, from dishware to vaginal discharge, was stifling. Orthodox Judaism, unlike other forms of American fundamentalism, largely avoids the question of belief; steadfast, granular obedience to the 613 commandments of the Torah, and the embrace of the community, preclude the question. The journey toward leaving is a slow awakening to her own suffering, and then a sudden leap to cut its bonds.

NYT - you may encounter a paywall.
December 20, 2017

Worst Nativity Scene Ever?

The Vatican's "naked beefcake guy" nativity scene this year has captured the prize.
December 5, 2017

Storytellers promoted cooperation among hunter-gatherers before advent of religion

Storytelling promoted co-operation in hunter-gatherers prior to the advent of organised religion, a new UCL study reveals.

The research shows that hunter-gatherer storytellers were essential in promoting co-operative and egalitarian values before comparable mechanisms evolved in larger agricultural societies, such as moralising high-gods.

Storytellers were also more popular than even the best foragers, had greater reproductive success, and were more likely to be co-operated with by other members of the camp, according to the research published today in Nature Communications.

The researchers, led by Daniel Smith, Andrea Migliano and Lucio Vinicius from UCL's Department of Anthropology and funded by the Leverhulme Trust, based their findings on their study of the Agta, an extant hunter-gatherer group descended from the first colonisers of the Philippines more than 35,000 years ago.

They asked three elders to tell them stories they normally told their children and each other, resulting in four stories narrated over three nights. They found the stories about humanised natural entities such as animals or celestial bodies promoted social and co-operative norms to co-ordinate group behaviour.


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