Archive | Religion

New Survey of Muslim Youth (Age 15 to 25) in Malaysia and Indonesia

This report (Values, Dreams, Ideals: Muslim Youth in Southeast Asia, with a pointer to the questionnaire and the raw data) struck me as interesting, because Malaysia and Indonesia are often mentioned as places in which a more moderate form of Islam is generally practiced, and because Indonesia has the largest Muslim population of any country in the world. The results are pretty complicated, so let me just give a couple of reported results, based on the questionnaire and raw data document (many of these items don’t seem to be mentioned in the report, though perhaps I missed them):

  1. The statement “Terrorism gives Islam a bad image” was endorsed by 55.3% to 27.2% among Indonesian youths and “Terrorism gives Islam a bad name” was endorsed by 59.3% to 39.8% among Malaysian youths.
  2. The statement “Suicide bombers are needed to defend Islam” was rejected by 77.5% to 15.5% among Indonesian youths and 55.8% to 43.3% among Malaysian youths.
  3. The question “Do you think the Quran should replace the 1945
    constitution?,” was answered “no” by 75.3% to 20.4% of Indonesian youths, but “In your view, should the Quran replace the constitution of your country?,” was answered “yes” by 71.6% to 25.2% among Malaysian youths.
  4. The statement “It’s OK to be gay or lesbian” was rejected by 98.8% to 0.6% among Indonesian youths (though note that the question did not ask about whether such behavior should be outlawed), and 99.4% to 0.5% among Malaysian youths.
  5. The statement “The cartoonist who drew the image of the Prophet Muhammad had freedom of expression” was rejected by 70.5% to 19.7% among Indonesian youths and “The cartoonist who made the Mohamed-Cartoons had freedom of expression” was rejected by 82.8% to 15.5% among Malaysian youths.
  6. The statement “Osama bin Laden is an Islamic liberation fighter” was
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The Next Round of Leah Libresco’s Turing Test for Religion

Leah Libresco has now posted many of the questions and answers for the next round of her Turing Test for religion. They are available at her blog. In the previous round, her fifteen test participants (some real atheists, and some Christians) answered four questions about atheism, trying to persuade readers that they are genuine atheists. In this round, the same people answer four questions about Christianity, seeking to persuade readers that they are genuine Christians. The eight questions are available here.

Readers will be able to vote on which respondents are the real Christians and which the fakers. [...]

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Leah Libresco’s Turing Test for Religion

Atheist blogger Leah Libresco has now begun to implement her Turing Test for religion, which I previously wrote about here. At her blog, she has recruited fifteen test participants who will first answer four questions about atheism, trying to persuade readers that they are real atheists. They will then answer four questions about Christianity, seeking to persuade readers that they are genuine Christians. The eight questions are available here. Some of the participants are actual atheists and the rest are Christians.

Readers will have the opportunity to see each test participant’s answers and then vote on which “atheists” they think are real and which ones fake. Later, they will also vote which answers to the questions about Christianity are given by real Christians and which ones are atheists pretending to be Christian. Leah plans to offer a prize to the atheist who persuades the most readers that he or she is a genuine Christian, as well as to the Christian who most successfully mimics an atheist.

The fifteen sets of answers to questions about atheism are now up at Leah’s blog, and you can vote on which ones you think are written by genuine atheists here. [...]

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A Turing Test For Religion

Inspired by Bryan Caplan’s ideological Turing Test, atheist blogger Leah Libresco proposes a religious Turing test to measure the extent to which Christians and atheists understand the arguments of the other side [HT: Bryan Caplan]:

Just like Caplan, I’d like to put my money where my mouth is and play in an ideological Turing Test against a Christian blogger. We could both answer a selection of questions posed by Christians and atheists or we could each write an argument for and against the side we support and then briefly rebut the two arguments the other one had produced. I’m flexible and open to suggestions.

Debates over religion have many parallels to political debates. Public ignorance about religion is almost as widespread as political ignorance. And most people react in a highly biased way to evidence and arguments that go against their position on either subject.

A religious Turing test, however, poses challenges that a political one does not. Liberalism, conservatism, and libertarianism are rough equivalents of each other in as much as all of them are ideologies that try to delineate the appropriate role of political power in society. Atheism on the other hand isn’t really an equivalent of Christianity in the same sense. Atheism is just denial of the existence of God; it is not a comprehensive moral system. That’s why thinkers as divergent as Ayn Rand and Karl Marx could both be atheists. By contrast, Christianity goes far beyond merely asserting that God exists. It also incorporates many other theological doctrines (e.g. – that Jesus Christ is the son of God), and various ethical commands. The same goes for Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and many other religions. Thus, simulating a Christian who is well-informed about the arguments for his religious views is a tougher challenge [...]

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God Tells Us: No Photos of Women in Our Newspaper

Before:

After:

Prof. Howard Friedman (Religion Clause) has the story, with links:

In a strict reading of Jewish laws on modesty, the Hasidic newspaper Der Tzitung, published in Brooklyn, has a policy that it will not publish photos of women. The Washington Post reported yesterday on the controversy that this has stirred when the paper altered the now-famous photo of Hillary Clinton, the President and others in the White House situation room watching the progress of the mission that killed Osama bin Laden. The paper’s version (shown by Failed Messiah blog) removed Hillary Clinton and the only other woman in the photo, Audrey Tomason. It turns out that this violates the White House terms distributed with the photo that: “The photograph may not be manipulated in any way….” Der Tszitung has issued a statement (full text from Washington Post) reading in part:

The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion…. In accord with our religious beliefs, we do not publish photos of women, which in no way relegates them to a lower status. Publishing a newspaper is a big responsibility, and our policies are guided by a Rabbinical Board. Because of laws of modesty, we are not allowed to publish pictures of women, and we regret if this gives an impression of disparaging to women, which is certainly never our intention. We apologize if this was seen as offensive.

Well, yes, they do have the First Amendment right to refuse to publish photos of women. Nor do I think the White House terms are likely to preclude that, since the photograph is likely a government work and not copyright-protected, and even if it’s owned by the photographer, the use is likely to be a fair use, given the free distribution of the unaltered work. But we have the [...]

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UN Human Rights Council Drops Resolution Banning “Defamation of Religion”

Religious freedom scholar Nina Shea reports that the United Nations Human Rights Council recently ended consideration of a resolution requiring states to ban “defamation of religion.” The Organization of the Islamic Conference decided not to push for a vote on the resolution, which had passed in each of the several years, when it became clear they didn’t have the votes to win this year.

This is a notable (and sadly rare) victory for freedom of speech and religion at the UN. In previous posts, Senior Conspirator Eugene Volokh and I have pointed out the threat that this resolution poses to individual freedom (see here, here, and here). The resolution is also a prime example of how repressive authoritarian regimes use international human rights law to try impose their despotic norms on the international community. For reasons John McGinnis and I explained in this article, the problem goes far beyond this particular resolution.

Unfortunately, this defeat may not be the end of the “defamation of religion” resolution. The OIC and its allies could try again in future years. The UN General Assembly adopted a similar resolution in November.

There is no easy solution to the challenge posed by this sort of international “human rights” initiative that seeks to undermine freedom rather than protect it. But the beginning of wisdom is to recognize the nature of the problem. We should also act to prevent the use of international human rights law influenced by dictatorships to override the domestic law of liberal democracies. [...]

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Judge Grilling Parent in Child Custody Case About the Parent’s Secular Humanism

From yesterday’s Atchley v. Atchley:

The trial court addressed the following inquiry to the husband.
Q. Now, you said you attend a Morning Star Church?
A. Correct.
Q. Do you donate money to the church?
A. I don’t donate money to the church.
Q. Do you—does [husband’s girlfriend]?
A. No, she has not yet.
Q. Okay. Do either of you serve in any ministry that the Morning Star Church is involved in, whether some sort of charity work or teaching kids or anything like that?
A. No, not at this time.
Q. Do you have prayer in your home?
A. We pray at the dinner table.
Q. Bible study?
A. Not in the home, no.
Q. You’ve described yourself as a secular humanist, right?
A. Correct.
Q. Okay. How does—how does a secular humanist determine what’s right and wrong?
A. I mean, it’s a—it’s a—that’s a very deep question. I mean, I think people innately have an idea about what’s right, what’s wrong and you have to—you have to look at it from the perspective of not just, you know, what’s good for me, but what’s good for those around me, am I doing a greater good. I mean, I can have morals and make correct decisions without having a religion per se.
Q. What’s the authority though that you submit to?
A. Just my basic philosophy in life which is that I think humans can help each other solve their own problems. I don’t think we need to look elsewhere. I think if we work hard at it, then we can make a better society and we can all get along and we can solve problems and we can improve how it is we live, what the human condition is.
Q. But ultimately what you’re telling me is

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Interesting Religion Cases at the Supreme Court’s Conference Friday

Cert was denied in Cooke v. Tubra, 10-559, but the Court has relisted in the other case I bored you about last week, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v EEOC, 10-553, suggesting the Court is taking a careful look at it.  Hosanna-Tabor involves whether the judicially recognized “ministerial exception” to the Americans with Disabilities Act, bars review of the termination of a parochial school teacher who teaches the full secular curriculum, but also teaches daily religion classes, is a commissioned minister, and regularly leads students in prayer and worship.

I understand that two other cases involving the ministerial exception will be considered at the same conference, Weishuhn v. Catholic Diocese, 10-760, and Skrzypczak v. Roman Catholic Diocese, 10-769.  But I suspect that Hosanna-Tabor is the most likely grant of the three.

UPDATE (3/3): Both of my readers may be interested to know that on March 1, the Court called for a response in Skrzypczak; the Diocese had waived.  It will be interesting to see whether the Court goes ahead and acts on Hosanna-Tabor at tomorrow’s conference or whether it holds all the cases until the opp comes in in Skrzypczak. [...]

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Interesting Religion Cases at the Supreme Court’s Conference Tomorrow

I see that two religion cases I’ve been watching are both on for the Supreme Court’s case conference tomorrow.

Cooke v. Tubra, 10-559, which I’ve previously written about here, presents the question whether the First Amendment bars a pastor’s defamation claim against the church that employed him when the claim is based entirely on statements made by church officials within the church explaining to its members why the church disciplined and terminated the pastor. The case appears to implicate a longstanding split about how much courts constitutionally may involve themselves in employment disputes involving clergy.

Here are the petition, the brief in opposition, and the reply brief.

In addition, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v EEOC, 10-553, involves whether the judicially recognized “ministerial exception” to the Americans with Disabilities Act, bars review of the termination of a parochial school teacher who teaches the full secular curriculum, but also teaches daily religion classes, is a commissioned minister, and regularly leads students in prayer and worship. In addition to the express statutory defenses for religious organizations created by the ADA, courts of appeals have recognized a constitutionally rooted “ministerial exception” barring adjudication of certain claims regarding the employment relationship between religious institutions and ministers and other ministerial employees.  The Sixth Circuit held that the fired teacher’s “primary duties” were secular and not ministerial and so the ministerial exception did not apply.

The petition was filed by UVA Professor Doug Laycock, a respected expert on religion issues, and the case has attracted quite a bit of amicus attention—three amicus briefs have been filed. The government’s opp acknowledges “some variations in courts’ articulations of the governing test,” but maintains that “there is no conflict that warrants this Court’s review.” A harder hurdle to overcome will [...]

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New York Times on the Secular Right Blog

The New York Times recently ran an interesting article on the Secular Right blog, which I commented on here back when it was first established:

As a child, Razib Khan spent several weeks studying in a Bangladeshi madrasa. Heather Mac Donald once studied literary deconstructionism and clerked for a left-wing judge. In neither case did the education take. They are atheist conservatives — Mr. Khan an apostate to his family’s Islamic faith, Ms. Mac Donald to her left-wing education.

They are part of a small faction on the right: conservatives with no use for religion. Since 2008, they have been contributors to the blog Secular Right, where they argue that conservative values like small government, self-reliance and liberty can be defended without recourse to invisible deities or the religions that exalt them….

Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor at National Review, noted that conservatives throughout history have esteemed “mediating institutions” like schools and churches, sources of authority other than the state. “If that’s the way you’re thinking, concern for the strength of organized religion follows pretty naturally,” Mr. Ponnuru said.

I do have a small bone to pick with the article and possibly with Ramesh Ponnuru. There is a difference between being an atheist and having “no use for religion.” One can deny the existence of God, while simultaneously recognizing that religious institutions sometimes serve useful purposes. Being an atheist doesn’t prevent me from seeing that the Catholic Church runs an excellent system of private schools, for example. It also doesn’t prevent anyone from recognizing the value of “mediating institutions,” including religious ones.

At the same time, it is also the case that organized religion has often contributed to grave injustices, providing support for slavery, gender inequality, and occasionally (in the case of “Liberation Theology”) even communism. Whether a [...]

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Sovereignty Watch: Vatican Refuses Service of Process in Abuse Case

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that the Vatican has refused service of process in a widely-followed priest child abuse case. 

The Vatican has refused service of a federal lawsuit over its handling of the notorious sex offender Father Lawrence Murphy – a move that could delay the Milwaukee lawsuit for months if not years, victims’ advocates said Monday ….  But a California-based lawyer for the Vatican dismissed it as a procedural step in keeping with U.S. laws on diplomatic relations that allow states to choose how to be served in lawsuits.

What’s the diplomatic aspect of this?  The Vatican is a sovereign state, complete with a seat at the UN, diplomatic immunity for its officials, and it benefits from doctrines of foreign sovereign immunity.  The service was attempted in the ordinary way for private parties, through the mail.  With the Vatican having refused service, the plaintiff must now go through the State Department.  This will almost certainly lengthen the time before service is completed.  There is another complicated legal question here as well, as to whether the Vatican is the right party in the lawsuit, or whether instead it should be aimed at one or another legal entities of the Catholic Church in the US responsible for supervision of the priest at issue, and which actually own the assets of the Church in the United States.  For the Catholic Church as for many American religious denominations, the legal and asset ownership structure of the religion across the various congregations, parishes, dioceses, etc., is hugely complicated and tangled. 

The broader question is whether it is justified for the Vatican, alone among religious denominations in the world, also to be a sovereign state.  The argument is that it is simply a historical fact that the Holy See was and is a state, independent [...]

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Reconsidering Ground Zero Mosque Leader Feisal Abdul Rauf

Back in August, I wrote a post criticizing efforts to use government power to stop the building of the Ground Zero Mosque and explaining why I see no good objection to having a Muslim cultural center or mosque near Ground Zero. But I was also highly critical of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, leader of the mosque project. My main objections to his record were his tendency to draw a moral equivalency between the US and Al Qaeda, his claim that the US government was an “accessory” to the 9/11 attacks, his praise of Iran’s repressive government, and his refusal to admit that Hamas is a terrorist group. In this recent National Review piece, conservative columnist Henry Payne claims that Rauf’s record has been misrepresented:

[A]s Rauf repeated — again — on Frank Beckmann’s conservative radio show last Friday, he strongly opposes Hamas and terrorism. “Hamas is a terrorist organization. They have committed terrorist acts,” he told Beckmann in an impassioned denunciation of Islamic extremists who “pose more of a threat, in fact, to Muslim-majority societies,” where bombings have killed thousands of innocent people…..

In an interview last September on Larry King Live, Rauf told guest host Soledad O’Brien, “I condemn everyone and anyone who commits acts of terrorism. And Hamas has committed acts of terrorism….”

“The reason we were supported by many of the masses of the ex-Soviet countries is because publicly we called their leadership — Reagan called them — an ‘Evil Empire,’” Rauf told Beckmann in urging American leaders to denounce corruption in Muslim nations. “This had great appreciation among the masses. We called their leadership for what they were.”

Since I wrote my August post, Rauf has indeed denounced Hamas as a terrorist organization, and he deserves credit for that. It is interesting, however, that he [...]

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Santa Showed Up at Mass Tonight

Santa Claus showed up at the end of the Children’s Mass at our parish church tonight (ably aided by Tod Lindberg).  Santa (let it be noted for the official record) pronounced Your Correspondent “Nice” and presented him with a candy-cane.  I’m not Catholic, and so am not schooled in the deep matters of Catholic theology.  However, I was curious as to the arrival of what I presumed to be a pagan demi-god at Mass, and indeed coming up to the altar – and, as I recall a couple of years ago, processing out with the priest.

Your Faithful Correspondent made inquiries as to the theology of all this.  At some (many?) Protestant services – I imagine this would be true of the Mormons, for example – the arrival of Santa in the liturgy of the service might be considered a nod toward paganism, at least (responding to Matt’s comment below) insofar as it happened in the course of the religious service itself.  It was pointed out to me that, for Catholics, however, Saint Nicholas is a saint.  True, the connection between the historical St. Nicholas and Santa Claus is a bit hazy; but My Religious Informant thought it close enough for a children’s Christmas Mass in which part of the purpose is religious instruction as to the importance of saints.  For St. Nicholas to process out with the priest, red suit and all – I do not, of course, speak for the Church – is apparently within bounds of the liturgically and even theologically acceptable.

(Added:  To be clear, My Religious Informant did not think this was an example of syncretism – of a kind that has always been true of Catholicism and thought to be an important mechanism for bringing people to the faith – but [...]

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UN General Assembly Committee Passes New Version of Resolution Urging Nations to Forbid Defamation of Religion

The United Nations General Assembly Third Committee recently passed another resolution urging nations to ban defamation of religion [HT: Elizabeth Cassidy of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which criticized the resolution here]:

A U.N. General Assembly committee once again voted to condemn the “vilification of religion” on Tuesday, but support narrowed for a measure that Western powers say is a threat to freedom of expression.

The non-binding resolution, championed by Islamic states and opposed by Western countries, passed by only 12 votes in the General Assembly’s Third Committee, which focuses on human rights, 76-64 with 42 abstentions.

Opponents noted that support had fallen and opposition increased since last year, when the Third Committee vote was 81-55 with 43 abstentions. The 192-nation General Assembly is expected to formally adopt the measure next month.

The resolution was amended from versions passed in previous years in an attempt to secure support from Western nations. Instead of defamation of religion, it speaks of “vilification.” It also condemned acts of violence and intimidation due to “Islamophobia, Judeophobia and Christianophobia.”

Senior Conspirator Eugene Volokh and I explained why previous incarnations of this resolution pose a threat to freedom of speech and religion here, here, and here. As I have pointed out previously, this is an excellent example of the ways in which repressive governments seek to use international human rights law to suppress freedom rather than protect it, a problem I have written about in two articles coauthored with John McGinnis (see here and here). Most of the support for this resolution comes from authoritarian and repressive regimes, many of which have terrible records on religious freedom. The resolution was sponsored by the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Most OIC members are authoritarian states, and many are [...]

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From North Carolina Blogger to Active Al Qaeda Member

The Jawa Report reports. NPR likewise mentions the traitor (Samir Khan), though in passing, in a story that begins this way:

The single biggest change in terrorism over the past several years has been the wave of Americans joining the fight — not just as foot soldiers but as key members of Islamist groups and as operatives inside terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida.

These recruits, a number of whom are profiled in this “Terror Made In America” series, are now helping enemies target the United States….

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