Religion & Politics: USF Fall 2006

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Religion Causes Questioning Over Candidacy

The United States of America. A country that was founded on the principles of freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and yet in the politically driven world of today candidates are questioned on the basis of their religion as the deciding factor of whether or not they would make a good “next president.” After I read the article regarding whether or not it was a good idea for a member of the Mormon church’s elite to run for president (see full article http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1562941,00.html) I could not help myself but to think why does it matter if he is a prominent member of the LSD church?
In my opinion politics has gotten to superficially based. Candidates are chosen or ruled out because they don’t look presidential, or they don’t talk like a Senator should. How is there any qualification for how the leader of the United States of America should look? Or how someone who is helping to create and pass the laws of our nation, how is it that their beliefs in God become the main focus of their campaign whether they want it to or not. After the most recent elections there were many stories in the newspaper and online in regards to Ellison, being elected to Congress as a Muslim. Though it is understandable, in the sense that obviously if a person is devoutly spiritual in their specific religion and they do believe everything the church says that’s a different story. But the majority of candidates running today are not a strict as a Franciscan Monk.
When John F. Kennedy was elected president the country threw up its arms and declared to be at a loss, for everyone believed that if JFK was president the pope would end up running America, simply because Kennedy was the first ever catholic president. Clearly it was not the pope that launched the Bay of Pigs invasion, that was Kennedy. As a strong political member Kennedy made decisions based on what he believed would most benefit the country, and ideally that is what our Congress and President do everyday. A person may not always agree with the policies being made or decisions had by the president, but that person got elected because of what they stood for, what they want to do for our country, not because on Sunday’s they don a suit and tie and sit in the third row of Grace Cathedral.
I believe that a Mormon could become president, if he is the candidate the people want. Like any candidate he will need to have a solid background in politics and support issues the common man believes in. This isn’t to say he will be our next president, but it is always a possibility.

Is There a Culture War Among Us?

We first heard about the term “culture war” while reading McGraw. She mentions it on page 3 while discussing the debate going on today in the world in regards to undermining America’s Scared Ground. We all know what this phrase means and yet do we? The technical definition is a conflict between societies with different ideas, philosophies, beliefs, and behaviors. If this is truly what culture war means then is this going on today in our own world? Is this going on in America? James Davison Hunter and Alan Wolfe discuss just that in their new book.
Without previously reading this book I would sense that these two authors are trying to educated American’s about what is happening in their own backyard. The bitter 2004 presidential election campaign dealt with many heavy issues separating the country in two practically on the basis of religion and people’s beliefs. Our forefather George Washington warned America in its earliest stages of the dangers that political parties will have on the fresh and new country. Clearly the rest of the forefathers did not take as much heed as should be, but was this simply out of differences in belief of political policy or was there already a underlying cause to this beginning divide of the country. Is it possible that political parties were formed through different religious beliefs and evolved into political parties masking their true goal from a country that boasts, separation of church and state? It seems very likely, for as more religions grow popular and grow larger in the United States of America more third parties are being formed. It seems like every issue of today has some religious background to it. For instance gay-marriage and stem-cell research. Both are strongly frowned upon by the church, and the church has now taken it upon themselves to preach their beliefs to that congregation. I don’t want to be misread, I have no problem with a church expressing what it believes, but telling its members that they must believe a particular way and that they must vote for a specific candidate I believe that is wrong. I still believe in freedom of religion and thought and yet it seems churches are forcing too much upon its people thus creating these larger than life divides between people of different beliefs.
It is almost as if Americans’ have no understanding of brotherhood anymore and would much rather debate and fight on issues that may never change. A Christian may never convince a Jewish person to convert or vise versa. Is this culture war that America is battling today even worth all the effort placed forward into it? McGraw says it best when she says, “The standoff itself has led to a glorification of the battle—the culture war—with media taking sides and the goal being victory of one side over the other, rather than pursuit of the good for the nation as a whole.” (page 3). Americans have become too focused on themselves and have lost sight of the bigger picture, the country as a whole. Hopefully with time we will be able to regain this.

Monday, November 27, 2006

A Racial Profile of Musims

Along with our class readings and discussions on Islam I have also taken an introductory course on Islam so I feel like I have a basic understanding of the religion. While I do not claim that I have even a small grasp on the complexities and depth of Islam, I feel educated enough to be able to spot erroneous stereotypes that are portrayed in the media. Unfortunately, it does not seem that a majority of the American population has taken the time to educate themselves on the Muslim religion. I understand that not everyone is religious or interested in learning about news faiths. However, in the case of Islam with all the current political issues and post 9/11 I feel that it is the responsibility of American citizens to have some knowledge about the Islamic religion other than what the media depicts.
In Geeve’s introduction he points out that “since the events of 9/11 and the subsequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, there is hardly a day that goes by without media coverage of Muslims.” He goes on to recognize how most of the stories are heavily one-sided and can lead to racism towards Muslims even here in the United States. Browsing the internet today confirmed Geeve’s statement as I found an article in
The Arizona Republic reporting on an incident at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport where five Valley Muslim leaders claim they were removed from their US Airways flight for praying. The whole incident seems dripping with ignorance and racial profiling, and sparked by an uneasy passenger who felt that “the imams were acting suspiciously.” I am hoping that upon further investigation more substantial evidence for their removal arises, but at this point this incident is just another example of the consequences of the negative Muslim stereotypes portrayed in the media.
The United States has become a ground for religious pluralism, like McGraw discusses in her book. Unfortunately, many individuals don’t seem to recognize the religious diversity or take the time to be educated on different beliefs, opinions or viewpoints and instead are quick to make judgments and often only follow media stereotypes. Like the Arizona Republic article mentioned the Constitution is hardly being upheld when airports engage in ethnic profiling. In McGraw’s book Muqtedar Khan discusses the increasing presence of Muslims in American democracy and mentions how Muslims have “entered the Conscientious and Civic Public Forums” (p.147). There seems to be no denying Muslim presence in American society, but improvements must be made to grant them recognition and respect in a country that prides itself on such foundations.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Overcoming Western Misconceptions (extra credit blog)

Overcoming Western Misconceptions

In our class recently we have been talking about Orientalism, or the misconceptions reached by western views of Islam. We began by identifying specific articles of clothing such as the chador, hija, burka and finally the hijab. By now I am sure we all know about the hijab, or veiling that Muslim Women wear. This article of clothing will be at the center of my discussion on the variety of reasons Muslim women wear hijab and overcoming western misconceptions.

Ron Geaves writes in his book Aspects of Islam that these western misconceptions “stereotype Muslim women as victims of male oppression: veiled, passive and invisible” (217). These stereotypes are everywhere in the Western world, and I, myself held a few of these views dear until I was educated. These misconception is exactly what Katherine Bullock, Ph.D. writes about in an article entitled “Hijab and Contemporary Muslim Women” (see full article here: www.messageonline.org/2004febmarch/cover1_opt.pdf )

In this article Bullock simply refutes the western mis-interpretation that the hijab, or covering is an oppressive tool with one swift swing:
“Academic research, has, also, highlighted the fact that the motivations and meanings behind covering are extremely diverse; though the women may look similar in their dress, they are not thinking similarly, nor experiencing hijab similarly. This is an important point to make because those who would claim that the hijab is a sign of oppression ignore the multiple sociological meanings that hijab carries.”
The fact that hijab is worn for multiple reasons, not simply oppressive ones is the thrust here. These “multiple sociological meanings” that arise include women wearing hijab from anything to illustrate their social status to either a new commitment or re-discovery of religion completely. Simply being forced to wear hijab is unusual for women to experience.

This leads us to my last point of overcoming western misconceptions. The fact that many women, in all parts of the world wear one form of hijab or another and are not all oppressed. It is ignorant to say that none are oppressed, because this is not the case. But the reality is that the majority of the women chose to cover themselves for a variety of reasons. “My mother has always worn the veil, but she knows nothing about Islam. She wore the veil out of tradition, whereas I wear it out of conviction” (Bullock,2).

The understanding that hijab (in its many forms ) is simply not an oppressive tool in Islam and that it can be actually used to liberate women is the first step in overcoming western misconceptions.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Voting for the Common Good

Prior to the mid-term elections America was awash with pundits and pollsters pushing their propaganda regarding potential voting predictions. Everything was bathed in rhetoric and talking points. Therefore, when I received a Catholic voting guide in my USF e-mail account I was to say the least, "suspicious."
For my own entertainment I reviewed the Catholic voting guide titled, "Voting for the Common Good", "A Practical Guide for Conscientious Catholics" (http://thecatholicalliance.org/new/files/Voting-for-the-Common-Good.pdf).
Regardless of the tame title, I was ready for trouble. Judgmentally, I was prepared for the religious two-step, a sweet song and dance number with a moral values twist and liberal heathen melody. My soup was so sour, I knew somehow God had overstepped his bounds and was running as a write in candidate.
As a good little atheist I was interested in understanding how the Catholic Church manipulated its fellow parishioners and wield their hand to vote. However, with delight my faith in humanity was strengthened by understanding the common sense and wisdom put forth in the Big C's little guide.
The voting guide covers issues from the death penalty to abortion and beyond. Issues I care about and struggle with as a voter, citizen, and human being. Is the death penalty just? What about euthanasia as a last option for the terminally ill? How as a nation can we deal with and help alleviate poverty?
To say the least I was very impressed with the guide and admire the thoughtfulness of its recommendations. The Catholic Church is asking its members to educate themselves about any candidate or measure that is worthy of their vote. Catholic members are asked to scratch beyond the surface and understand the issues that affect our nation. In my humble opinion I believe all U.S. citizens could benefit from reading the Catholic's guide to practical voting.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Shifting American Politics

Emmanuel Quezada

Shifting American Poltics



In the 21st century, religious and political pluralism is everywhere. Gone are the days where one view represented the majority. In today’s America, anyone can be anything at any moment. Tolerance seems to be at the forefront both politically and religiously and is now taboo to condemn people on any basis, but character.
In Minnesota, Keith Ellison recently won a seat in congress, thus becoming the first Muslim Senator. Ten years ago, it would have been unlikely that Ellison would have won, but following the events of 9/11, Many Americans realized that different view points must not only be heard, but also respected. Furthermore, Ellison’s nomination coincides with a growing Muslim population and increasing Anti- Bush sentiments nationwide. People realized with the last election that voting for an unqualified individual can have lasting consequences. In 2006, more and more people are aware of the dangers of not voting. Many minorities and individuals who would otherwise not vote are stepping up because of the tragedies that have transpired in the last 4 years. Americans seem to be getting away from the sentimental choice are now looking for people who can impact the country in a positive way.
Moreover, Ellison’s position was endorsed by a number of Jewish communities and newspapers. Many see him as a man who believes in love and peace and can help ease the tension between people of the Muslim faith and Jews.
In terms of pluralism, Keith Ellison’s election is a microcosm for the transition that America is attempting to make. With economic uncertainty and deteriorated international relations, America is in dire need of quality political leaders. People are beginning to realize that political officers must be heavily qualified. In the past, having money or a famous last name could get an office, but with so many problems, character has become of the utmost importance. This leads directly to the pluralism. It does not matter whether an individual is gay, African American, Muslim or any other minority, if he/she is capable and can positively impact the nation, the questions of race, gender or ethnicity is an unnecessary one.

Religious Right: A Moral Majority?

“If the Christian right votes, we can swing any election,” Pastor Ted Haggard proudly stated in the recent film Jesus Camp, a scary thought considering the accusations of homosexuality and drug use that have surfaced against the Evangelical figure-head recently. As a religious leader in the fight against gay marriage in the United States, the charges must have certainly come as a blow to the strong religious right who followed Haggard, comprising a large part of what American politics now refers to as the Moral Majority. Though there are many political and religious ramifications that his self-proclaimed ‘immoral’ actions will have on his religious community, the attitude that his followers will now take towards homosexuality will be most interesting. Will Pastor Ted’s ‘sinful’ actions challenge Evangelicals to reassess their views on the issue? Will they stray from the church, disappointed in the hypocritical actions of the man they trusted to give them religiously ethical guidance? Or will they simply classify the event as an example of the true power of evil for even the most holy of individuals?
Though it would be ideal to see churchgoers’ ideas challenged by Pastor Ted’s actions, such an occurrence seems highly unlikely. As Christiano points out in chapter nine of Sociology of Religion, the Evangelical coalition in the United States is deeply rooted and has a history of attempting to “lead the nation to righteousness” by voting according to their isolated views of morality. After viewing Jesus Camp, in which some of the campers admired Haggard and aspired to be like him, I was struck particularly by the opinions of Haggard’s supporters towards moral issues. Many of the children featured in the film are raised in families who breed intolerance through ignorance of science (one mother pointedly asked her son in one of their daily home-schooling lessons: “Have you gotten to the part yet where they say that science hasn’t proven anything?”) and an unwillingness to even consider opposing facts or opinions.
Sure, the Evangelicals of Jesus Camp do not represent the entire basis of Pastor Ted’s New Life community, but they certainly embody many of the attitudes that are prevalent throughout the religious right. While religion and morality are important aspects of any individual’s life, Pastor Ted’s actions call for a re-evaluation of how morality and religious ethics are being preached within the Christian church. Christiano states that, “conservative churches do an efficient job of tracking and recovering their committed clientele” (246) but perhaps they should try to understand the reasons that have driven believers away from the faith as well. Perhaps, a more effective way of propagating the religion would be to simply allow more freedom within it, and avoid blanket classifications of immorality which eventually lead to hypocrisy amongst even the most dedicated and trusted leaders.

During our last class on Tuesday, I was interested in the discussion of Orientalism, particularly the Western view of Muslim women, and what their position in Islamic society truly was. An article I found relevant to the discussion was in the Christian Science Monitor, entitled “From Tunis to Tehran, The Great Veil Debate.” As the title suggests, the article discusses the controversy surrounding the veils Muslim women must wear. Interestingly enough, the focus of the article is not on Muslim women in the U.S. or Europe, as I had expected, but rather in Middle Eastern countries such as Iran, Turkey, Morocco, and Tunisia. Surprisingly, there is a big debate going on over veils, even in Muslim majority countries. Some have gone so far as to restrict, or even ban women’s head coverings, arguing, “The niquab (head cover)…is an important innovation used by political extremists.” However, the other side argues that the niquab is merely a sign of obedience toward God. A young female student in Cairo stated, “I wear the scarf because it is what God wants me to do. I am not making a statement about politics.” According to the Christian Science Monitor, “While the niquab remains relatively rare in most Muslim countries, the simple head scarf has made a stunning comeback in recent decades as both a public sign of piety and, in many cases, a fashion statement.”
The reason I chose this article was because of the brief class discussion of Orientalism, the Western perspective of the East. This perspective is often full of stereotypes and distortions, and unfortunately I shared one of these perspectives. Until I discovered this article, I believed, after seeing so many reports about the conditions of Muslim women in the Middle East, that the women head coverings were enforced in Muslim majority communities. I knew there was controversy about head coverings here in the U.S. and Europe, but I had no idea that there were also debates going on in the Middle East.
I am sure that there are many Americans who hold a generalized view of the treatment of women in Islamic society. We need to educate ourselves about others’ cultures rather than generalize and rely on the media.

Keith Ellison - An Historic Election for America’s Religious Pluralism

With the election of Keith Ellison to Congress from Minnesota’s 5th Congressional district, the United States has officially moved outside the typical Judeo-Christian mold to elect a Muslim. Ellison, a native of Michigan who was raised Roman Catholic, was a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives before ascending to the U.S. Congress.

Ellison’s election, while historic and important, may showcase Minnesotans willingness to accept religious differences more than a national trend to do the same. Minnesotans are known for their liberal political views. The populist movement owed much of its success in the United States to Minnesota and Wisconsin, and both states continue to play host to political mavericks and independent thinkers. A state that elected Jesse Ventura, Paul Wellstone, Eugene McCarthy, Hubert Humphry and Walter Mondale, and boasts a Democratic Party known as the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, can hardly be called a model for the rest of the United States.

However, with former Republican strongholds like Montana, Kansas and Nebraska trending Democratic, perhaps these progressive values will become a more mainstream facet of America’s political and religious landscape. The fact that any state has the political will to elect a religious minority, particularly a Muslim in the post-9/11 political atmosphere, is a sign that America is beginning to move past old stereotypes.

These stereotypes, discussed in detail in Ron Geaves book Aspects of Islam, stem from the West’s caricature of Muslims as misogynists and terrorists. Ellison himself had to contend with charges that he promoted anti-Semitism through his one-time support of Louis Farrakhan, whom he has since disavowed. He also faced tough criticism over his acceptance of campaign funds from CAIR, a group some have linked to terrorism, evidence of the continued efforts to paint those of his religious background with the broad brush of Islamism. That Minnesota voters refused to take the bait, and wallow in the Orientalist mindset of those who would seek to label and box in Ellison based on his faith, shows a real shift in attitude that is beneficial for American society.

Religious pluralism in the United States was given a real victory on Tuesday with Ellison’s election to Congress, but much is still left to be done. As Agha Saeed, chairman of the American Muslim Alliance, said after Ellison won the Minnesota primary, “One person is not going to make any change, unless that victory for the individual marks the beginning of a new attitude and a new approach.” The prayer of all people of faith should be that as we seek religious pluralism in the United States, a deeper political and social inclusion of Muslims will accompany Ellison’s historic election.

Scandal In The Mega Chruch

In the past few weeks Ted Haggard has come under a great amount of heat. He was formerly the leader of a 14,000 member New Life Church until he was forced to step down due to sexual allegations. He has been accused of buying illegal drugs (methamphetamines) and of a homosexual affair with a male massage therapist in Denver, Colorado. This seems extremely hypocritical on Haggard’s party since he publicly voices his disagreement with homosexuals and gay marriage. Haggard was also one of President George W. Bush’s advisors on evangelical issues. This scandal within the church has come at an unfavorable time due to the 2006 elections. This is the last thing conservative politicians need at this time in the election. It seems that this scandal has negatively affected the campaign of conservative religious leaders. It has discredited them in a way.
But just because some of the public has been turned of by the accusations made against Haggard, does not mean his church has turned their backs on him. In an article in the Washingtonpost.com titled “Colorado Minister Admits ‘Sexual Immorality’, the member of his church were surprised but sympathetic to Haggard. “Some in the standing-room only crown in mega church’s 8,000 seat auditorium wiped away tears and embraced one another as they heard of Rev. Ted Haggard’s remorseful confession...” Even though they were shocked, many are still supporting him with opens arms. In an article on CNN.com titled “Pastor at Haggard’s church: ‘We stand with him’, there is an outpouring of supporters within his community. Rob Brendle, and associate pastor at New Life church, says that the response by him and the church is sadness and surprise. Yet they still “believe and stand by him”.
Brendle also goes on to say that Haggard has ran the church in an exemplary way for the past 21 years. Brendle defends accusations of Ted Haggard being hypocritical. He says “To my knowledge, Mike Jones (gay massage therapist) has not alleged that Ted asked him to marry him…No I don’t see the hypocrisy. I do see it as indiscretion, and I am grateful that Ted is repentant and humble.” I believe that the Mega Church and the Evangelical community are supporting Ted Haggard for various reasons. I feel one of the reason are because of the election. Even though they may be aware of the scandals in their religion, they will stick by their faith. And another reason has to due with the Evangelical faith. I believe that Haggard and other Evangelicals feel that once a sin is admitted he will be redeemed. Christiano states in “Sociology of Religion” that “..act of acceptance customarily follows a confession of one’s sinfulness; an acknowledgment of the need to repudiate sin and surrender the totality of one’s life to Jesus; and an invitation to Christ to deliver the believer and redemption and holiness through an experience that is likened, to a second birth.”

Politics and Religious Pluralism

America is the land of the free. With the separation of state and church, there is almost unlimited freedom to establish and govern any religion possible. Here we have the most diversified group of religious believers ranging from Christians to Eckankar.

Due to freedom of religion, many religious groups chose to call US their home. According to Neusner, Islam has been the fastest growing religion within the United States. Based on the NSRI and ARIS data, Islam population more than doubles within the 10 year span. Since Islamic population is able to cast their votes and have their voices cast, they are able to show their demands and views within our political system.

A recent article by Omar Sacirbey voices the future views of Muslims within the States. “The boiling frustration with the Bush administration coincides with unprecedented voter registration and get-out-the-vote campaigns in Muslim communities. Meanwhile, other Muslim voters have been energized by what they see as anti-Muslim rhetoric.” On one hand this is good that political structure and laws are able to accommodate their residents. On the other hand it’s a been frightening that large political groups are able to control the politics. If they are able to elect officials that have similar views as them, what is going to stop them from electing one of their own who will solely cater to one specific group while completely abolishing the views of the masses.

Muslims made the similar mistake before. When Muslim population within the United States was voting for Bush either for the support for his tax cuts or for opposition of Lieberman. I am sure they have realized their mistake since they are now in support of the democratic party. It’s not only Muslims who are affected from this.

Even though there is supposed to be a separation of state and church, it seems that we are not even close to that division. For instance, “Tennessee Voters Will Be Going on Faith”. It’s not surprising that many voters are voting based on their religious believes and affiliations. They don’t want to vote for “the other”, even though “the other” might have politics views that collide with their own views. Since there is a ‘big’ election coming up in two years, it’s going to be interesting to see how different religious groups are going to vote.

Whats in a Name?

Whats in a Name?
After searching around CNN.com for an article, I came across an article called Accused evangelical tried to broaden agenda. I clicked on it because it had the word evangelical in it, thinking it would be about evangelical. As I started reading, I relized that it really had nothing to do with the evangelical church. It was about Rev. Ted Haggard who is accused of paying for sex with a man. Haggard was the head of the National Association of Evangelicals, but recently stepped down. What really got my attention was the fact that the heading said "accused evangelical." Was it nessesary to put evangelical? Couldnt CNN just simply said "accused reverend'? Then it got me thinking about how we, as a society, tend to label people based on their religion.

Labeling starts off simple: boy or girl. Then it starts getting into black or white; young or old. Where do we draw the line? Stupid or smart? Pretty or ugly? Muslim or Christian? During WWII, the Jewish people had a wear a star labeling them as a jew. During this time, Nazi were inforcing that people stay away from them because they were viewed as bad. What you believe should not define what kind of person you are.

Im reminded of the movie Borat, which just recently came out in theaters. Borat is journalist who comes from Kazahastan and travel across the country to learn the American way. In the movie, he is very afraid of Jewish people. He goes to a small bed and breakfast and thinks that the people are nice. As soon as he finds out that they are Jewish, he immediatly changes his attitude towards them. I laughed at it, but then I thought that we all do this with out even realizing it. As soon as we find out what kind of religion a person is, our attitude changes. Maybe not drastically, but you tend to watch what you say or how you act.

I would like to have an experiment. Get a group of people of different religions in a room together and not tell them what relgion they believe in. I would like to see how they got along in the begining, then tell them later what religion everyone is and see how their attitudes towards one another changes.

Why do we label people on what their religion is? Whats the point? One label that we all share in common is that we are all human beings. There are many labels out there, Democrat or Republican, but one label that we all share is human being.

After reading back over what I had written, I relized that I labeled people. In the 4th paragraph, I originally wrote "what kind of religion they are." It's not what religion they are, its what they believe. For some people Im sure its what they are, but thats more on a personal level.

Keith Ellison- Our First Step Toward Muslim Acceptance

The media, as we have spoken about in class, has an important role in the way Americans view current politics and religious groups. Many times those who are not fully educated in political and religious issues will take what the media is portraying as truth. Currently in America, post 9/11, our attitudes towards Islam have severely changed. As we read in the Aspects of Islam text, the media portrays Muslims as radical, patriarchal, and dated. At the same time different sources of media portray Muslim women as mysterious, mystic, and sexual. What Geaves is suggesting is that the media is guilty of portraying many things, good and bad, but that it is never consistent. Therefore, we must take a step back and realize there is a spectrum of difference amongst any religion, culture, or political party but we must treat people as individuals first.

I have seen the media crash down on Muslims in our country since 9/11. Though some may view it as necessary, I think it delineates the hopes of a true pluralistic society. Ostracizing and fearing Muslims has caused nothing other than anger and distrust on both sides. Pluralism as we have learned is where multiple religions can be truly understood and accepted within a given society. Currently, the media has given Muslims a bad name all over the western world, where pluralism may not be attained in our near future. I do not dismiss the 9/11 events as being related to Islam, and I understand that this is the event that sparked the distrust and hate amongst Americans. But after five years I think it is time to start reading to become educated on the religion to see that it is an overall peaceful faith. I think we are moving closer to acceptance and understanding though it still may seem dismal.

I find it difficult to jump on one faith and find all of its flaws to the point of ruining its entire community. This has caused a clash of civilizations in our current global political system. We live in a climate where it has become East versus West, democracy versus Islam, Arabs versus Americans. But where do our overall attitudes towards Islam arise? The media.
I think it is important to understand the source of the media first. For instance, I found an article claiming that Islam is a radical, unstable religion that should not be understood or accepted in our country, but should be fought with American Evangelicalism. Michael Medved, the writer of this article, speaks disrespectfully of Muslims and is a prime example of why pluralism is often difficult to find in America. Not only does he believe in ostracizing Muslims, but he is aiding one religion into hating another. http://www.townhall.com/columnists/column.aspx?UrlTitle=does_us_bigotry_cause_muslim_madness&ns=MichaelMedved&dt=08/16/2006&page=2

On November 7, 2006, the first U.S. Muslim Congressman was elected in the state of Minnesota. This was a huge breakthrough for Muslims in America as they now have realized they do have a role U.S. politics. I think this is one step towards a more pluralistic society. Keith Ellison, Congressman for Minnesota, made it very clear that he did not run for office as a Muslim, but as an American first. He also said that though he follows Islam in his private life, it does not define him. He does recognize, however, that this is great for our current political climate and will hopefully allow Muslims to want to take action in U.S. politics, and conversely that Americans will begin to respect and trust Muslims. The article was very respectful and hopeful for Muslims in the U.S. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6127234.stm

This is where the media can also be beneficial to a true pluralistic society. As someone stated in their blog below, it may be more important to find commonalities in politics first, then to see that people of different religions have similar views; this could be the way to pluralism. However pluralism is reached, I think the swing back to a Democratic House and Senate will be the first step, especially with Keith Ellison in office.

Diversity in Congress

The recent election brought a number of changes to our government. The obvious ones being a change in majority leadership in the Congress, Rumsfeld's resignation, and Pelosi's seat in the House. One new addition that really caught my attention was the election of Keith Ellison as a new member of the House. He is the first Muslim to be elected to serve in Congress, and is also the first African American from Minnesota in the position.

His election is a simple example of how different religious traditions coexist in this the U.S.. Though, it does concern me that Congress has been comprised of predominantly people of the Christian Faith, and most of our governing officials have been Christian as well (and are). The fact that Ellison's religious faith is almost always mentioned in the media when referring to his election, is good in the sense that we are aware of and accept this idea of pluralism... yet it almost seems as though we're too aware. In an ideal pluralistic society it seems as though his faith shouldn't be such a big deal (there is, after all, a very large porportion of Muslim's in the world). I understand that it is on the forefront because he is the first Muslim in Congress, but it makes me wonder why it is that it is taking our pluralistic society so long to diversify those who run our government.

Ellison said, "people draw strength and moral courage from a variety of religious traditions", when recently asked about his religious faith, as reported by CNN. Prior to his election, back in September, he said, "I'm a Muslim. I'm proud to be a Muslim. But I'm not running as a Muslim candidate," when questioned. All the attention drawn to his religious affiliation seems to be pointing out that we are not as religiously open-minded as we'de like to think. Prior to the election, he was accused of having ties with Farrakhan (the leader of Islam) and had some articles he'd written back in college used against him. This is just how American politics work, I understand, but looking at the recent religious and political scandals (Foley, Haggard etc.) and how no serious attention was brought to them until there was un-deniable evidence, I wonder why there is so much focus on Ellison's religious/political affiliations. Does this seemingly beneficial change frighten our post-9/11 society? M. A. Muqtedar Khan in Taking Religious Pluralism Seriously, points out that "the determination of the American Muslim community to make an impact on the political... scene on North America, and the growing fear and prejudice against Islam and Muslims in the United States, has created a unique situation for Muslims. Unlike Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Mormons, and others, American Muslims do not yet have a place in American Society."

A story written back in September about Ellison's candidacy by the Washington Post. quoted him saying (in reference to any accusations): "I know this is just a taste of what it will be like if I win". I'm interested to see whether religion-related issues will continue to arise or if his religious affiliation can be less of an issue and more of an important and necessary aspect of our pluralistic society.

pluralism and politics

Spencer Brady
Religion and Politics
11/08/06
Blog # 3

The world we live in today is shaped by many different aspects, and two of the most important elements are politics and religion. Pluralism has become a huge part of American religiosity, and whenever there is something getting this much attention politics will inevitably play a role in it. In the last century there have been thousands of people migrating to the U.S., and with them they have brought religious pluralism. We have begun to embrace the fact that we live in an extremely diverse society, and that not everyone has to take on the very same beliefs in order for things to run smoothly.

However, we do not have everything where we would like it yet, because we still have a major war going on in Iraq. This is a big obstacle as far as pluralism and politics go. There are Islamic extremists that are over there bombing and killing many people. So in return we send over as many troops as possible to try to put an end to all the mayhem that is taking place in Iraq. There are still vast amounts of people here in the U.S. who disagree with the tactic of simply sending more young people over to Iraq to either kill other people or even get themselves killed. It is extremely hard to satisfy everyone because so many people take on different attitudes and beliefs towards this war. For the most part this is a religious war and we are all fighting until we reach some sort of a common ground.

Well, with the election that just took place this week we will see some dramatic changes with how things are handled over in Iraq. For a long time now we have basically just been sending as many troops over there as possible to try to simply over power the extremists over there like Al Qaeda. Now there have been some adjustments in our political involvement; our secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld has resigned. Since this war has been going on he has played a major role in the idea of just send over as many troops as possible, and we will over take the people in Iraq. That clearly has not worked the way he thought, if anything it made things worse because it was assuming that everyone in Iraq embraces this extremist ideology. What he was not taking into consideration is the large numbers of people who are against this war, and do not believe that war is an answer. In an article in the San Jose Mercury News, Tomas Lantos , who heads the House International Relations Committee said “You can’t unscramble the omelet and the tremendous mistakes that were made after major military operations…..I don’t see any magical solutions, but the president may be sending a signal of a change in course.” This is about removing Rumsfeld and bringing home many of our troops. This is an effort to compromise in this war, rather than just trying to run everyone and their beliefs over. Now we will reduce the number of troops because this is a complicated war, and our military can not change people’s beliefs; we need to work together as a pluralistic society to come up with a way for everyone to meet half way.

Religion Votes

Religion Votes
I was originally going to write on a different topic but with the very recent elections and the democrats taking control of the House and most likely the Senate, barring any surprises in Virginia or Allen wanting a recount, I think it is important to take a look at our country, religion and politics. There have been many scandals of late including republicans and religious right figures, such as Jack Abramoff, Mark Foley, and now most recently Ted Haggard (http://www.therevealer.org/archives/main_story_002694.php and http://harpers.org/SoldiersOfChrist-20061103288348488.html being my two source articles). Haggard is one of the people shown in Jesus Camp and leader of a mega church in Col. Springs CO., as well as President of the National Association of Evangelicals, and weekly adviser to Pres. Bush. Undoubtedly these scandals played a large role in republicans losing both Houses. Abramoff and Foley were both Republicans and Haggard certainly is not considered a democrat, whether he is or not.
We have two Americas as Carville said on CNN 11/7/06, one in the South that is religious and tends to vote accordingly, almost always Republican and the other in the rest of the country who may or may not be religious and is generally a more party diverse group. On the one hand this has been the political makeup of this country for quite a while. What is interesting is the mid-west and most likely Virginia, where typically both are strongly religious and also staunchly Republican, both saw Democratic victories. My focus on this topic in relation to the class and religious pluralism is the idea as Wikipedia defines it “that one's religion is not the sole and exclusive source of truth…” basically as we all already know the idea that you can learn from many different religions, as McGraw has done. I believe there needs to be this sort of balance and understanding between religion(s) and politics. As I addressed in my last blog article there must be some way of finding harmony between our religious and political beliefs and that the two cannot always be the same, that we must find a balance in our identities as religious adherents and citizens of the U.S. According to the New York Times survey of voters almost 25% of all those who voted Tuesday were White, Evangelicalical, Born-again Christians, this is not necessarily a bad thing and I am not suggesting these people should not vote, but my point is this: the majority of people who I have met, talked to or had contact with in any way who considered themselves to be religious almost without exception took their religion more seriously than politics. This is fine and even understandable but just as politics does not inform religion neither should religion inform politics. Where religion is a group experience, politics should be (when it comes to voting) an individual one. As Haggard himself notes in Jesus Camp Evangelicals are a voting block of ~30 million. These people should not be lead, like sheep, by anyone, especially a person of religious authority into ways of voting. Especially not when this is done by suggesting ethicality, morality and adherence to religious principals as the motivator. Clearly anyone who has been led by Haggard into this type of thinking has been taken because he did not "practice what he preached". If you want to put your religion into the trust and care of a religious person, pastor, head of church, Imam, or rabbi, that is fine, however they too are just people and are not likely living wholly without sin. However, no one should put their political thinking, voting, or beliefs into the hands or care of another because they are, when espousing political points, even more human and less spiritual, they more often than not may have ulterior motives, such as being an adviser to Bush. Where God rules religion, self-interest must rule politics (and does), just as in economics, when everyone looks out for themselves first and votes accordingly the aggregate of that becomes the best interest of the people and this MUST be what politics is about. Those who are religious must understand that there is a difference between their self-interest as citizens of the US while on Earth and their self-interest in the afterlife and in the view of God. Those who are not religious must understand that they cannot stop people from voting with their religion and two, that those who are religious face serious moral and ethical dilemmas in balancing the word of God and it's morals and ethics with political ones, and as I mentioned earlier many who are truly religious see that as far more important.

First Muslim to serve in Congress

The first Muslim has been elected to serve in the U.S. congress. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota state legislator and lawyer, defeated two other candidates in Minnesota’s fifth Congressional district. His victory was part of the Democratic wave that seized control of the House of Representatives from the Republicans.
Regarding his Muslim faith, he said, “People draw strength and moral courage from a variety of religious traditions." This statement reflects the acceptance of other religions within political demeanor and for Keith Ellison to have been elected reveals the U.S. considering the ideas of new religions. Mr. Ellison has also said, "Mine [religious beliefs] have come from both Catholicism and Islam. I was raised Catholic and later became a Muslim while attending Wayne State University. I am inspired by the Quran's message of an encompassing divine love, and a deep faith guides my life every day.” He was also endorsed by the Twin Cities newspaper, the American Jewish World, which said, "In Ellison, we have a moderate Muslim who extends his hand in friendship to the Jewish community and supports the security of the State of Israel.”
The Mark Foley scandal has been another current event. Mark Foley former Republican member of the United States House of Representatives has resigned as allegations surfaced that he had sent suggestive emails and sexually explicit instant messages to young men. These midterm elections have demonstrated the powerful role that religion has played in the political process. According to some reports, all the lying, deception, manipulation, and scandals are coming to a head with the revelation that Republican leaders probably covered up the sexual predation of Representative Mark Foley. This may have lead to the significant number of conservative white evangelical Christians to not vote for Republicans these midterm elections.
In both cases religion has played a big role in politics. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected a seat in the U.S. congress shows Americans opening up to the idea of new religious influence. As for Mark Foley, it seems many of the Christian right have begun to second guess the Grand Old Party (GOP) or Republican Party. Even though evangelical Christians usually vote Republican it appears they have associated themselves more Democratic this midterm election.

The Long Road Ahead

During the past few decades, the religious landscape of the United States has undergone a dramatic change. Other than Catholic and Christian churches, there are now Islamic mosques, Jewish synagogues, and Buddhist and Hindu temples all across the so-called America’s Sacred Ground. This allows for the religious expositions in both the spiritual and political aspects of a religion to the people.

In an article called Bringing People Face to Faith that is posted on the pluralism.org website, it talks about the significance of a public peace prayer gathering. Approximately 80 people of various religious faiths gathered at Noor va Danesh, an Iranian Islamic center in New Jersey, to pray for peace. This Islamic center is an 80 year old building that was once a Protestant church. The significance of this event is that Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Christians all gathered with a single belief that linked them together which is there is hope of bringing peace in the way of life and in the world. This belief of peace is the basic principle of every religion. These people are believers in religious pluralism in a sense that they hold true to their religious values and teachings but they also willing to accept and recognize other religions. They are trying to live in a pluralist society in hopes for democracy, equality, peace, and freedom of religion. The believers are able to coexist in the world where everyday there are outbreaks of violence and wars among their people.

In Taking Religious Pluralism Seriously, the authors try to explore and explain the ramifications and implications of the plurality in America’s Sacred Ground. In Chapter 7 of the book, M.A. Muqtedar Klan tries to show the East (Islamic/Muslim) and West (American) perspectives. For example, when people hear the words “Muslim” and “Islam” they would associate it with 9/11 and the war in Iraq. They also associate Islam and the Muslim people to inequality, violence, and resistance to political change, when in reality "Muslims are strongly in the corner of the Muslim Democrats and … [want to] save Islam from extremism and from America in the decline in its civil rights standards" (147). They believe in a society with democracy, freedom of religion, and rights for all ethnic and religious people. They believe in acceptance, commitment, submission, and peace in the way of life before God.

I do feel that people should strive for equality, democracy, and freedom of religion for the society. I feel that America through its cultural religious diversity is on right track but with its closed mindedness and prejudice, we still have a long way to go.

Striving to understand

The United States is always under constant change with new laws and regulations being installed into the government, the steady flow of immigrants into the country, and the vast range of religions/beliefs that are implanted within the country. As stated in the Foreword by Diana Eck in the Taking Religious Pluralism Seriously, “…since the passage of the Immigration Act in 1965, newcomers have come to America from all over the world. We are now not only Protestants, Catholics, and Jews; we are Hindus and Muslims, Jains, and Sikhs, Buddhists and Zoroastrians, practitioners of Santeria and Wicca” (Mcgraw, ix). However, in a country that seems always open to new ideas, especially with issues regarding immigration and religion, we still place up a front that affects the opinions that U.S. citizens have.

For instance in an article written in the Chicago Tribune from November 2, 2006 titled “Filing seeks support for Immigrants” (http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/chi0611020230nov02,0,7471975.story?coll=chi-business-hed), regarding the issue of protection of those undocumented immigrants and their worker’s rights. A spokesperson for the Interfaith Justice Network states that “we are very concerned that the U.S. is not committed to protecting these worker’s rights.” This is a serious matter that has been put on the table, but always returns to the back burner or the only solution is to ship them as “unwanted burdens” back to the place they were already facing difficulties of life. In a country that strives on equality and freedom why do we push people out? People seek for a place that will give them asylum and peace to live a life, but how is this possible if there is this push for anything that may be considered “different”?

Now on the positive side, when everything seems impossible and chaotic there is the hope that something good can happen. In an article in the International Herald Tribune titled “Jewish and Muslim Women Live Together to Seek Peace” (http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2006/10/09/america/NA_GEN_US_Peace_Dorm.php) In New Jersey at Rutgers University about a dozen women, which also included several Jewish and Muslim women gathered to live together to get across the concepts of peace and understanding. These two concepts are important and need to be explained and put into action. Why is it taking us so long to come to this? The best way to solve this problem is to talk about the problem and finding a peaceful solution that will not hurt or discriminate someone of another religious background, ethnic or racial background.

To find a balance is a challenge, but the ability to understand and to find the common ground it is possible to overcome the obstacles that the United States faces. As Diana Eck states, “Pluralism is much more than the simple fact of diversity. Pluralism is not a given, but an achievement. It is engaging that diversity in the creation of a common society. Now, as then, the task is to engage in the common task of civil society people who do not share a single history or a single religious tradition” (McGraw, xiv). It is not an impossible or an unheard thing to be done. The ability to find as McGraw calls it “America’s Sacred Ground” everyone must participate to reach the goal. This country is for everyone to find that understanding and peace.

The Nation: Denied U.S. Entry To Scholar Shows Bad Policy

Across the United States, there is a worrisome phenomenon spreading, fearing of Muslim professors, politicians, journalist, teachers, and many other people have lead to a censorship which relates to our class and what we have discussed in class. Many people such as Kemal Helbawy who is mentioned in the article, “White House On Wrong Side Of Muslim Brotherhood, The Nation: Denied U.S. Entry To Scholar Shows Bad Policy,” (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/10/27/opinion/main2134668.shtml)written by Stephen Glain talks about denying entry to important and influential people associated with Muslim groups may be deemed unsuitable to gain entry to the United States. Kemal Helbawy is a founding member of the Muslim Association of Britain and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian-based Islamist movement with chapters throughout the Islamic world, including Hamas in the Palestinian territories. Kemal Helbawy shares similar experience of Tariq Ramadan who was discussed in class regarding the United States denying many individuals with the explanation that they are a threat to the United States and may be associated with terrorist organizations.
As mentioned in the article, “The blockade of Tariq Ramadan,” by Diana Eck, she says, “in his recent address at the U.N. President Bush insisted every civilized nation including those in the Muslim world, and must support those in the region who are offering a more hopeful alternative.” It is really ironic how the United States denies entries for people such Kemal Helbawy and Tariq Ramadan who are well educated and bring a brought positive change.
Both Kemal Helbawy and Tariq Ramadan have good intentions, but the Bush administration see individuals who are associated with Muslim organization as a threat, linking these individuals to be terrorists, when they are clearly not. The change that Tariq Ramadan would be able to bring to the United States if he was able to gain entry is enormous; he could bring hope for bridging the divide between the Islam and the West. According the Washington Post article, “Defender of 'liberal Islam' shunned” by Tariq Panja, it states, “The State Department said he was barred for actions "which constituted providing material support to a terrorist organization." Mr. Ramadan said the charge stems from his donation, then worth about $750, to a Palestinian charity.” The donation made by Mr. Ramadan was discussed in the class how Mr. Ramadan is associated with terrorist organization even though it may not have seen so before the September 11 terrorist attack. According to State Department documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the act's "ideological exclusion" provision may apply to anyone who "endorses or espouses" terrorism or who voices "irresponsible expressions of opinions." One can see that the efforts by the Bush Admininstartion to deny these individuals as a form of censorship and acting only in their own self interest. The idea that the United States wants to spread freedom, freedom of speech, and democracy around the world is really ironic since the United States is prohiting influential individual the ability to express their ideas and views to bring a positive change and influence upon people. One may see that the United States only act in ways thatwill protect their own interest and what benefits that would bring to them. One may believe that ever since the September 11 attack, America has been closed to outside ideas, since it could pose a threat to national security. One may believe that the Bush Admiration and the government are using national security and immigration laws as a means of silencing those who evoke strong feelings because they touch the heart of personal and communal.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Is Religion Rehabilitating?


In the World Wide Religion News, there was an article about how a proposed religious based program was cancelled for federal inmates of the United States. In this article the main reason for the cancellation is because the separation of church and state. But what I want to consider is if religion is rehabilitating for inmates?
Throughout our discussions in class we have talked about how religion is a personal viewpoint, that in today’s society it is a more personal feeling, more private then public. Now with this view in mind I would have to agree with the argument above, that this should be separate from state and that federal money should not pay for it. If it is a personal matter then the inmates have a choice to become spiritual or not in the first place. Also because it is personal, you’ll will never know if they are actually rehabilitated and ready for the outside world again. That is one thing that is hard for anyone to tell since religion is such a personal thing, it would be very easy for an inmate to go to the services and make it look like he is being rehabilitated especially if he really wants to be released when his parole time comes around. This is why some people have turned down the attempts of some federal prisons wanting to be funded for this type of program.
On the other hand we have also discussed whether religion can really help some people come out of their hard times. Since religion can be viewed as a personal but yet a group type of exercise, then this could be a way of rehabilitating or making better human beings out of the inmates. This could be a way to lower in prison crime because violence is not a trait of religion. With this being said, it would possibly be a good way to distract the inmates from crimes committed on the inside because it could be a privilege for them to go to the service. With these points noticed then it could be a good reason to have federal funding for the services in federal prisons.
As far as my personal thoughts I do agree that church and state should be kept separate because I personally think that nothing will be able to fully rehabilitate inmates. Their lives have been hard and very bumpy and no matter if religion is viewed as a federal or personal matter nothing will fully help them get back into the outside world. So I think that it should be kept separate and the inmates can choose whether or not to have a religious or spiritual life by reading the bible and praying and/or any other way they choose to live their spiritual lives.

Forcing Faith Schools to Accept All Faiths

Last week in England the government just finished pulling the “fastest U-turn in British political history,” and this is certainly not a good thing in British politics. The reason: the government tried to take on the Catholic and Anglican churches and was immediately crushed by these institutions (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/6114938.stm). The subject of this stare down was a proposed law that would have required all “Faith Schools”, as they are called, to accept at least 25% of its student body from other religions or no religion. However, the problem was not that the Catholic and Church of England schools did not want students from other faiths, but rather that they did not want to be forced. In fact, an official for the Catholic Education Service said that Catholic schools already take 30% of their pupils from non Catholic families. The Church of England also has an agreement with the government for a voluntary quota of at least 25%. As soon as the British government attempted to force this quota, the political flak coming from churches around the country caused the government to back down and change this part of the Educations and Inspections Bill.
Yet there is more to this situation than one might first notice. First of all, the purpose of the bill was not actually meant to regulate Catholic schools at all. In England, the idea of “social cohesion” has become a hot button issue in the government. However, there isn’t much evidence that social “non-cohesion” is an issue, except for one thing—the growing Muslim population as well as the aftermath of the London underground terrorist bombings has many government officials worried. Currently there are 2,041 state funded Catholic schools in England while there are 8 state funded Muslim schools. Yet it appears much more likely this social cohesion bill was aimed at integrating these Muslim schools. At the same time, it also appears that even if all state funded Faith Schools were forced to enroll 25% other faith or non faith students, there would not be enough non Muslim students attempting to enroll in a Muslim school. While non Catholics attend Catholic school, especially within bigger cities, because of their reputation for strict rule enforcement and moral value education, non Muslims are not attending Muslim schools for any reasons such as these. The fear in the British Government is without proper school integration things might evolve into actually being state funded separation of communities.
One problem here seems to be that the non-Muslim population of England seems to still hold in some way or other western orientalist views of Islamic values. In the wake of the London bombings, it seems the Muslim population in England is still seen as some sort of “other” in which the rest of the people do not want to interact with, especially when it comes to their children’s education. The truth is, if non Muslim families knew the strict moral teachings of Islam they might actually be more inclined to enroll their kids in a Muslim school. I think the British government is on the right track trying to keep communities from separating within the English society. Yet it seems like there is not enough participation within the civil and conscientious public spheres (which they have just like America) on this particular issue from different church organizations. If the Muslim school system advertised its values and quality education system and perhaps worked with other churches and the government to ensure some sort of quota, there would be an increase in social cohesion. The more the public conversation tends toward including all faiths in building a well educated youth population, the more reality will follow suit. Then, perhaps, the future will be made up of adults educated in a number of religiously diverse schools and peers. This seems like a good thing to me, and something worth trying for. The British government should not have backed down so easily.

The Political Union of Religions

Much of our class discussions thus far have been with regards to religious pluralism and ways of uniting different religions and perspectives on a common ground. In Taking Religious Pluralism Seriously, McGraw and the other contributing authors attempt to show how different religions show aspects of being in alliance with McGraw’s notion of America’s Sacred Ground. This is one step in trying to find a common ground amongst different religions; trying to bring them into the political, or civil public forum. However, several students in class have objected to the notion of religious pluralism and tend to understand it as negating the superiority of their own religion. While this is not specifically McGraw’s intent, she is attempting to open people’s eyes and minds to different world viewpoints and a better understanding of both western and eastern religions. Although each author in McGraw’s book focuses on a different religion, at some point they mention how pluralism becomes a potential means for political accommodation (p.65). This is not to say that the religion must lose its traditional roots, but there must be some degree of adaptation into American expectations for religious pluralism. In Chapter 7 M.A. Muqtedar Khan’s discussion on the American Muslim highlights how Muslim Democrats have made “an impact in both the Civic and Conscientious Public Forums” (p.143). However, in doing Muslim Isolationists have attacked them for engaging Muslims in the Civic Public Forum. Ultimately these two groups may never come to a consensus on their political beliefs. Nevertheless, the path of the Muslim Democrats serves as a prime example of a strong eastern religious group adapting in the western political realm.
I was reminded of our class discussions on religious pluralism and assimilation in the west while reading an article in the Associated Press Writer,
Minn. Lawmaker 1st Muslim in Congress, on Nov. 8th. The article discusses how Keith Ellison has become the first Muslim elected to Congress, and additionally, the first nonwhite elected to Congress from Minnesota. His campaign aimed to bring in everybody: “We were able to bring in Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists,” he said. I was initially attracted to this article because of Ellison’s faith as a Muslim, which is a topic our class is currently studying. However, after reading this article Ellison makes it clear that he never made religion the focus of his campaign. Rather, he focused on political issues such as the immediate withdrawal of the U.S. in Iraq and his support for single-payer healthcare. In addition, he took a more liberal approach in supporting gay rights and abortion rights.
This article sheds light on perhaps an alternative way of uniting across religions, which actually does not involve a focus on religions per say but more of an emphasis on political issues. I believe the issues in the Civic Public Forum may be easier to address at this point than those in the Conscientious Forum. While I recognize the value in understanding and excepting other religious viewpoints from the Conscientious Forum I think it is much more valuable to begin to make ties of similarities across religions. The first step in uniting may, ironically, be in the political forum. While historically the political forum tends to divide into two major categories: Democrats versus Republicans, red versus blue states. Nevertheless, the division of religions is much more broad, hence, uniting under some shared values like political viewpoints still serves to be advantageous for the construction of America’s Sacred Ground.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Political Pluralistic Framework Fails

With the pass of the 1965 immigration act in the United States, many people, customs and religious traditions have flooded into what Barbara McGraw calls America’s sacred ground. In Taking Religious Pluralism Seriously, McGraw describes the foundation of America’s sacred ground from the point of view of those who created it. Major influences such as John Locke and many founders of America felt that the best way to structure society would be a ground-up approach. In this structure, “liberty of the people [was] at the core of the founders’ ground-up approach to government” (McGraw, 10). It is with this liberty at the base of their approach, that allows a public forum of dialogue and idea exchange to thrive in society. In this birth, it was the goal of America’s founders to welcome all expressions in the public forum, “including, or perhaps even especially, religious expression” (10).

In modern times, it would seem that the dream of the founding fathers has become reality. This reality I speak of is the reality that America is a very diverse country and lives up to its name as a giant melting pot. This melting pot is a stew of different languages, cultures, opinions, religious preference and political standards. This I believe, was the dream of our forefathers of this country.

This dream seemed to shatter when I read an article entitled New York Times: Kiss the Koran, big guy (see full article here: http://www.getreligion.org/?p=1895 ). This article writes of an editorial written in the New York Times calling the pope out to apologize to Muslim leaders for calling the struggle of Jihad not a struggle at all (what Jihad literally translates to is struggle) but rather a call to violence (see the full article here.
This call to violence, as described by the pope only reiterates Western bias and ignorance. This call to violence as the pope suggests simply creates hostility between the West and Muslims.

Here, what is odd, is not the fact that the pope bad mouthed Muslims, or Islam, it is what is written in the Kiss the Koran article. Here, the author writes of attending a Pew Forum on religion where an “Ivy League professor considered to be one of the World’s leading authorities on Islam and Islamic history declined to talk” of early Muslim history “on the record.” The justification of this declination to talk was in the fact that the scholar did not “feel free in the United States of America to discuss this or that aspect of Islamic history, for fear that Muslim fanatics would hunt him down on his campus and take his life for blaspheming the Prophet." This to me, is just crazy. It is within this pluralistic society set up by our founders that allows the pope to unjustly criticize Islam, as well as make a leading scholar feel uncomfortable in simply recounting the history of his nation.

It is in this political framework around our society that allows religious pluralism to flourish. I believe that the dream to include every religious tradition is a nice idea, but when the pope bashes Islam, or extremist groups put fear in scholars for simply speaking their ideas, the political framework has failed us. It is with the presence, not absence of conversation that enables us, as Diana Eck so eloquently writes “to begin to understand our own traditions afresh in light of what we have learned from the other (Eck, 187).