Archive | Religion

Evolving Christian Attitudes Towards Personal and National Self-Defense

Issue number 5 of this year’s Connecticut Law Review is an excellent symposium on firearms law, policy, and culture. The lead article is from Nicholas Johnson, of Fordham: Firearms Policy and the Black Community: An Assessment of the Modern OrthodoxyJohnson (who is my co-author on the Second Amendment textbook Firearms Law and the Second Amendment) details the long and honorable history of Black Americans’ use of arms for lawful self-defense, especially against white racists. Johnson observes that in the late 1960s, Black political leadership abruptly shifted from the community’s traditional support for armed self-defense into being quite hostile to gun ownership.

The Johnson article is a short version of his forthcoming (Jan. 14, 2014) book Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms by Nicholas Johnson (Jan 14, 2014). I very highly recommend the book. It goes far beyond the Connecticut article. The subject of race control and gun control has been a subject of increasing scholarly attention ever since Robert J. Cottrol and Raymond T. Diamond’s 1991 Georgetown LJ article, The Second Amendment: Toward an Afro-Americanist Reconsideration. Having followed the subject carefully for the past two decades, I am amazed by how much original research that Johnson brought to the book, and by the rigorous analysis he provided for the most difficult questions.

In the Connecticut symposium, response essays are offered from leading “pro-gun” scholars (Cottrol & Diamond, Don Kates & Alice Marie Beard) and from leading “anti-gun” scholars (Michael DeLeeuw, David Kairys, Andrew McClurg [my co-author on another gun textbook], and William Merkel).

My own contribution to the symposium is an article titled Evolving Christian Attitudes Towards Personal and National Self-Defense. (SSRN link here; Conn. L. Rev. link here.) My article observes that the Black political leaderships’ sharp turn against self-defense [...]

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Europe’s Proposed Circumcision Ban: How Far Back We’ve Gone While Making Progress

The Council of Europe in Strasbourg has recommended nations consider banning child circumcision. Jewish groups, and the State of Israel, are predictably outraged by the recommendation, which if adopted would make traditional (and not just religious) Jewish life impossible on the Continent. Thus the law has been denounced as anti-Semitic.

While I have recently criticized European hypocrisy in matters related to Jews, here I find little to object to as a formal matter. European nations are well within their rights to ban such practices, despite the significant disruption it creates for religious minorities.

If democratically adopted, such bans would mean that a significant segment of European society thinks, as the Council said, that circumcision represents a barbaric mutilation of a child. That is a legitimate position of conscience; indeed, it is a quasi-religious belief itself, in that it is based on deeply held moral views about essentially unverifiable matters. As a believer in the covenant of Abraham I do not share these views, but they are far from absurd if one does not accept the validity of the covenant.

A majority has a legitimate right and interest to conduct society according to its moral views when articulated in laws that are generally and equally applied. Government is in part an instrument for the expression and transmission of values, and all legislation takes explicit or implicit moral positions. If the values that stand behind generally applicable legislation conflict with the views of religious or ethnic minorities, the majority should not be neutered or have its values annulled to protect the sensibilities of minorities who hold different views.

There are some who think the law is discriminatory, aimed at the religious groups who practice circumcision. It seems to me that circumcision, in a non-religious context, is common [...]

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The Devil is Doing a Poor Job of Persuading People he Doesn’t Exist

It is said that “the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world he didn’t exist.” Well, it obviously wasn’t all that great a trick, because recent survey data shows that 57% of Americans still believe he does exist, including 72% of African-Americans, 65% of Republicans, and 61% of women (but only 25% of Muslims and 17% of Jews). Interestingly, even 20% of survey respondents who say they don’t adhere to any religion still believe in the devil. The devil clearly needs to work harder at covering his tracks. [...]

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They Hate Us And/Or Want to Convert Us

Anytime the issue of evangelical Christian support for Israel comes up in a conversation among Jews, someone is bound to say something like, “they may love Israel, but only for theological reasons and they are anti-Semites” or “they are just trying to cozy up to us so that they can convert us all because they think that’s a prerequisite for Jesus’s return.” I’ve noted before that much of what American Jews think about evangelical Christians is contrary to empirical evidence (e.g., conservative evangelical Christians in the U.S. are no more or less anti-Semitic than Americans as a whole, and are substantially less anti-Semitic than some groups than lean Democratic and liberal, such as high school dropouts, Arab American, Hispanics, and African Americans), but a recent Pew study of worldwide evangelical leaders (only 20% North American, and 19% European) provides some additional interesting data about evangelicals worldwide.

34% say they sympathize more with Israel than with the Palestinians, while the rest says the sympathize either with both sides equally or with neither side (note that 47% of the leaders surveyed come from sub-Saharan African or Asia outside the Middle East, where the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not exactly the leading issue of the day). 75% of evangelical leaders view Jews favorably, the same percentage as view Catholics and Orthodox Christians favorably. 73% say it is a “top priority” to evangelize among non-religious people, 59% among Muslims, 39% among Buddhists and Hindus, 27% among Jews, 26% among non-evangelical Christians, and 20% among Catholics.

I’d say that it’s pretty hard to look at this data and conclude that Jews should have a specific fear or loathing of evangelical Christian leaders. [...]

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Tennessee Child Custody Law Favoring Parents Who Can Best Prepare Child for “a Life of Service”

I just ran across the Tennessee statute, Tenn Code Ann. § 36-6-404, that provides the factors that courts are to consider in determining physical custody as between two parents. Many states have such lists of factors, but the bold text seems to me to be unique to Tennessee:

(b) … The court shall make residential provisions for each child, consistent with the child’s developmental level and the family’s social and economic circumstances, which encourage each parent to maintain a loving, stable, and nurturing relationship with the child. The child’s residential schedule shall be consistent with this part. If the limitations of § 36-6-406 [which basically deal with abusive, neglectful, criminal, or otherwise unfit parents] are not dispositive of the child’s residential schedule, the court shall consider the following factors:

(1) The parent’s ability to instruct, inspire, and encourage the child to prepare for a life of service, and to compete successfully in the society that the child faces as an adult;

(2) The relative strength, nature, and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent, including whether a parent has taken greater responsibility for performing parenting responsibilities relating to the daily needs of the child;

(3) The willingness and ability of each of the parents to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent, consistent with the best interests of the child;

[Other factors, which are much more common in such statutes than factor 1 is, omitted. -EV]

(16) Any other factors deemed relevant by the court.

Now I know that Tennessee is the Volunteer State, but preferring parents who can inspire and encourage the child “to prepare for a life of service” strikes me as an improper judgment on the government’s part, and an interference with the parental rights [...]

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Support for So-Called “Honor Killings”

The Pew Forum’s survey of international Muslim attitudes asks, among other things,

Some people think that if a woman engages in premarital sex or adultery it is justified for family members to end her life in order to protect the family honor. Do you personally feel that this practice is [often justified, sometimes justified, rarely justified, or never justified].

It also asks the same question about men engaging in premarital sex or adultery.

The results:

(1) There’s a vast range of attitudes on the subject in various countries, with “never justified” ranging from just over 80% (in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Indonesia) to just under 25% (in Afghanistan and Iraq).

(2) In most countries, the respondents’ answers as to “honor killing” of women is very close to their answers as to men, including in many of the countries where there’s a lot of support for such killings. Only a few countries had statistically significant differences, ranging from 47% (81% believe that “honor killing” of men is never justified but only 34% believe that as to women) in Jordan, 10 or 11% in Iraq and Egypt, 7% in Russia, and 14% in the opposite direction in Uzbekistan.

(3) Though the Pew report states, “The Quran and hadith do not condone honor killings, that is, taking the life of a family member who has allegedly brought shame on his or her family,” in a substantial minority of the surveyed countries attitudes towards “honor killings” are significantly correlated to support for imposing Sharia law.

(4) Support for such “honor killings” is shockingly high in some countries. In Afghanistan, for instance, 37% of Muslim respondents say that such killings of women are “often justified,” and 23% say “sometimes justified.” In Iraq, 44% say “often” and 16% say “sometimes.” In Bangladesh, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, [...]

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Another Example of Unconstitutional Religious Discrimination in Virginia Marriage Law

Co-blogger Eugene Volokh recently linked to a Virginia state court decision striking down as unconstitutional a state law that allowed religious societies without official clergy to designate only one member as having the power to perform wedding ceremonies, while religious groups that do have clergy can designate more. The court concluded that the First and Fourteenth Amendments bar this law because “The General Assembly [Virginia’s state legislature] cannot favor one type of religion over another without a compelling government interest and a narrowly tailored method.”

I think the same reasoning should lead to the invalidation of another form of religious discrimination in the marriage law of our beloved Commonwealth, which I blogged about in this 2009 post:

My fiancee and I are not religious, and we plan to have our wedding performed by Judge Jerry Smith of the Fifth Circuit, the federal judge I clerked for. Unfortunately, however, Judge Smith lives in Texas. This would be fine under state law if he were a minister or other religious leader; but secular wedding officiants must be state residents.

Virginia law allows any minister of a religious denomination to perform a wedding, even if he or she is not a resident. The same applies to religious leaders of faiths that don’t have any official ministers. Similarly, state law allows any Virginia resident to perform a wedding if he posts a bond, and permits federal and state judges resident in Virginia to officiate even without posting a bond. However, Virginia does not allow out-of-state judges or any other nonresident secular personages to officiate. Thus, we have a clear case of discrimination on the basis of religion. Nonresident ministers and other religious leaders can perform weddings in Virginia; but nonresident secular leaders cannot. This holds true even if the secular figure and the

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Scotland Considers Law Recognizing Wedding Ceremonies Performed by Jedi Knights

Scotland is considering a new law that would grant official recognition to wedding ceremonies performed by practitioners of the new “Jedi” religion:

The Force is strong with the Jedi in Scotland. A bill under consideration in Scotland would grant those who have literally made “Star Wars” a religion the power to perform marriage ceremonies.

The BBC reports that the Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill would apply to other nonreligious groups such as the Flat Earth Society and the Jedi Knights Society, aka Temple of the Jedi Order.

And while it may sound like a joke to most, the Jedi religion is quite popular in some parts of Europe. In England, it is the second-most popular “alternative religion,” with more than 175,000 people listing themselves as Jedi in the 2012 nationwide census.

“Our current consultation covers not only the introduction of same-sex marriage but also the detail of important protections in relation to religious bodies and celebrants, freedom of speech and education,” a Scottish government spokeswoman said.

“At the moment, marriage ceremonies by bodies such as humanists have been classed as religious, even though the beliefs of such organizations are nonreligious….”

The Scottish government plans to hold a public consultation on the bill and, of course, not all traditionally religious groups are happy about creating a new category for ceremonies that are by their very nature, arguably, a religious practice.

“There are loads of people in a diverse society like this for whom belief can mean virtually anything—the Flat Earth Society and Jedi Knights Society—who knows?” the Rev. Iver Martin told the BBC.

“I am not saying that we don’t give place to that kind of personal belief, but when you start making allowances for marriages to be performed within those categories, then you are all over the place.”

For their

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The Catholic Church and Science Fiction

Co-blogger Sasha Volokh asks for examples of Catholic science fiction. As with the debate over Jewish fantasy literature a couple years ago, a lot depends on the definition of the relevant field. But even under a pretty narrow definition, there are many, many examples.

One of my personal favorites is Frank Herbert’s Dune series, where the Bene Gesserit order (which plays a key role in the plot) is based on the Jesuits, and the dominant religion has substantial elements derived from Catholicism. The characters even often quote from the “Orange Catholic Bible,” the result of a future rapprochment between Catholicism and Protestantism.

Another famous example is Keith Roberts’ alternate history novel Pavane, which portrays a world in which the Catholic Church managed to crush the Reformation and then went on to severely constrain social, economic, and technological progress. Roberts viewed that result as a natural outgrowth of the Church’s doctrines if it had succeeded in staving off challenges to its position as the dominant church for all Western Christians.

If we expand the focus to include fantasy literature, there are even more examples. As Tom Shippey documents in an important study of Tolkien’s work, Catholic theological concepts significantly influenced the themes of The Lord of the Rings (Tolkien was a strongly committed Catholic). Criticism of the Catholic Church and its theology are central themes of Phillip Pullman’s atheistic Dark Materials trilogy, and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s well-known feminist reinterpretation of Arthurian legend, The Mists of Avalon.

It would be easy to extend this list. Overall, I would say that the Catholic Church and its theology get far more attention in science fiction and fantasy literature than any other religion, possibly more than all others combined. That’s not surprising, given that the Church has had more influence on [...]

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An interesting story about two of Fred Phelps’ granddaughters’ leaving the Westboro Baptist Church — interesting both for its own sake, and also for the account of how they seem to have been persuaded, apparently in part by conversations with David Abitbol, an Israeli web developer and blogger at Jewlicious.

As a lawyer, a teacher of lawyers, and a blogger, I’ve often wondered how people’s minds are changed; this in an interesting case study, though, as usual, it’s hard to tell how or whether it generalizes to other situations, and what else may have been going on in the people’s lives that made them open to persuasion. Thanks to Howard Friedman (Religion Clause) for the pointer. [...]

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Evolving Christian Attitudes Towards Personal and National Self-Defense

A forthcoming issue of the Connecticut Law Review will feature a symposium on an article by Prof. Nicholas Johnson (Fordham) about the changing attitudes of the Black leadership towards firearms. In brief, Black leadership was historically very supportive the right to keep and bear arms, and particularly concerned that Blacks be able to have firearms for defense against white racists. The leadership’s attitude changed quite strongly in the late 1960s, and has remained anti-gun ever since. Johnson suggests that among the explanations for the change is that civil rights successes turned that leadership into powerful participants in the government, rather than outsiders.  Thus, the leadership adopted a more establishmentarian approach.

The symposium will have a variety of articles responding to Johnson. My own article observes that the change in attitude of the Black leadership parallels a change in much of the American Christian leadership about the legitimacy of defensive violence–at both the personal and the national level. For the Christian leadership, opposition to the Vietnam War was the proximate cause, but the change persisted long after the war had ended. Here’s the abstract:

This Article analyzes the changes in orthodox Christian attitudes towards defensive violence.

While the article begins in the 19th century and ends in the 21st, most of the Article is about the 20th century. The article focuses on American Catholicism and on the Vatican, although there is some discussion of American Protestantism.

In the nineteenth and early in the twentieth centuries, the traditional Christian concepts of Just War and of the individual’s duty to use force to defend himself and his family remained uncontroversial, as they had been for centuries. Disillusionment over World War One turned many Catholics and Protestants towards pacifism. Without necessarily adopting pacifism as a theory, they adopted pacifism as a practice. World War

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3-Year Sentence for Blasphemy in Egypt

Al Arabiya reports:

An Egyptian Copt arrested on suspicion of posting online an anti-Islam film that ignited Muslim protests around the world was sentenced on Wednesday to three years in prison, a court source said

Computer science graduate Alber Saber, 27, was arrested at his Cairo home on Sept. 13 after neighbours accused him of uploading sections of the film “Innocence of Muslims” and making another movie mocking all religions….

Prosecutors accused Saber of running Facebook pages calling for atheism, insulting Islam and Christianity and questioning religious beliefs….

Thanks to Charles Chapman for the pointer. [...]

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Pat Robertson: Young-Earth Creationism Is “Not the Bible”

Noted televangelist Pat Robertson firmly rejected young-earth creationism on “The 700 Club.” As CNN reports, when asked by a viewer how to respond to those who believe “the Bible could not explain the existence of dinosaurs,” Robertson suggested his viewers should not “fight science.”

“You go back in time, you’ve got radiocarbon dating. You got all these things, and you’ve got the carcasses of dinosaurs frozen in time out in the Dakotas,” Robertson said. “They’re out there. So, there was a time when these giant reptiles were on the Earth, and it was before the time of the Bible. So, don’t try and cover it up and make like everything was 6,000 years. That’s not the Bible.”

If Robertson truly doesn’t want his viewers to “fight science,” he should also dissuade them from pushing “intelligent design.” The bills attacking evolution and pushing ID pseudo-science keep coming. As HuffPo notes, a newly elected Montana state representative announced plans to require the teaching of “intelligent design” alongside evolution under the guise of “teaching the controversy.” The one federal court to consider the question rightly concluded that “intelligent design” is creationism in pseudo-scientific drag.

Neither young earth creationism nor the rejection of evolution is required by the Bible. As Dr. Joshua Swamidass, “a Christian and career scientist,” noted in the WSJ last week:

the age of the Earth and the rejection of evolution aren’t core Christian beliefs. Neither appears in the Nicene or Apostle’s Creed. Nor did Jesus teach them. Historical Christianity has not focused on how God created the universe, but on how God saves humanity through Jesus’ death and resurrection. . . .

there is simply no controversy in the scientific world about the age of the Earth or evolution. Evidence points to a billion-year-old planet.

The evidence for

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God Sure Goes for Killing Innocent People

MEMRI reports that “Saudi Cleric Muhammad Al-Munajid” is claiming that “Hurricane Sandy is Allah’s punishment for Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Meantime, Rabbi Noson Leiter [UPDATE: starting around 2:45] is claiming that Hurricane Sandy is God’s message about the “same-gender-marriage recognition movement.”

A few years ago, “Rev. Bill Shanks, pastor of New Covenant Fellowship of New Orleans” praised God for using Hurricane Katrina to make “New Orleans … abortion free,” “Mardi Gras free,” “free of Southern Decadence and the sodomites, the witchcraft workers, false religion.”

And of course this is an echo of Jerry Falwell’s famously saying that 9/11 happened because God was “mad” about abortion, and also about “the pagans, … and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.'” (Pat Robertson totally concurred.)

I’m aware that this is indeed long-established theology among some. It just doesn’t portray that brand of religion in a particularly good light, it seems to me.

UPDATE: Here’s one way of thinking about this: Religious people often argue several things together — God is just, God is all-knowing, God is all-powerful, and following their brand of religion will lead people to behave more morally.

That seems to be a hard argument to make when at the same time they say that God kills innocent people in order to punish other people (though of course believing in him means we ourselves would never ever do that). Yes, it’s theoretically reconcilable, on the theory that it’s OK for God but not for us, and that God moves in mysterious ways. It just doesn’t fit well my understanding [...]

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Muslim Rioters Burn Buddhist Temples and Homes in Bangladesh

The AP reports:

Thousands of Bangladeshi Muslims angry over an alleged derogatory photo of the Islamic holy book Quran on Facebook set fires in at least 10 Buddhist temples and 40 homes near the southern border with Myanmar, authorities said Sunday….

[A police chief] said at least 20 people were injured in the attacks that followed the posting of a Facebook photo of a burned copy of the Quran. The rioters blamed the photo on a local Buddhist boy, though it wasn’t immediately clear if the boy actually posted the photo.

Bangladesh’s popular English-language Daily Star newspaper quoted the boy as saying that the photo was mistakenly tagged on his Facebook profile….

More details from the Daily Star:

Home Minister Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir … promised to rebuild the Buddhist monasteries and temples and compensate the victims whose houses were destroyed.

The minister assured that the miscreants who stirred the violence would be traced and brought to book within 15 days….

Also addressing the rally, Industries Minister Dilip Barua said that in 1971 the country was liberated to establish a secular state. “The unprecedented events in Ramu have tarnished its reputation and our belief in secularism,” he said….

Thanks to Charles Chapman for the pointer. [...]

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