France has experienced a moment of political and media madness following the Harvey Weinstein affair. And all the ingredients are there for more of the same: disproportionate comments triggered by a cartoon in Charlie Hebdo of Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan (accused of rape); Twitter providing the ideal tool for reacting without thinking and starting the fire; religion-related issues providing fuel for it; grandstanding by a discredited politician (ex prime minister Manuel Valls) who thinks a wholesale attack on Muslims will revive his political career. And to top it all, the now established rule that every subject, even the sexual harassment of American women, will eventually come round to the question of Muslims in the French Republic.
Tag Archives: Religion
Pope Francis is one of the most hated men in the world today. Those who hate him most are not atheists, or protestants, or Muslims, but some of his own followers. Outside the church he is hugely popular as a figure of almost ostentatious modesty and humility. From the moment that Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio became pope in 2013, his gestures caught the world’s imagination: the new pope drove a Fiat, carried his own bags and settled his own bills in hotels; he asked, of gay people, “Who am I to judge?” and washed the feet of Muslim women refugees.
But within the church, Francis has provoked a ferocious backlash from conservatives who fear that this spirit will divide the church, and could even shatter it. This summer, one prominent English priest said to me: “We can’t wait for him to die. It’s unprintable what we say in private. Whenever two priests meet, they talk about how awful Bergoglio is … he’s like Caligula: if he had a horse, he’d make him cardinal.” Of course, after 10 minutes of fluent complaint, he added: “You mustn’t print any of this, or I’ll be sacked.”
Arbaeen: Millions of Shia Muslims take part in world’s greatest pilgrimage as Isis is finally defeated
Millions of black-clad Shia pilgrims are converging on the holy city of Kerbala for the Arbaeen religious commemoration, the largest annual gathering of people anywhere on earth. Walking in long columns stretching back unbroken for as much as 50 miles, sleeping and eating in tents erected by supporters beside the road, the event has become an overwhelmingly powerful display of Shia belief and solidarity.
The Arbaeen coincides this year with the final defeat of Isis, the movement that slaughtered Shia in their tens of thousands and aimed to overthrow the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad. The Syrian army announced today that it has captured the last Isis-held town in Syria, Albu Kamal, its victory coming a few days after Isis was driven from western Iraq.
If you spend any amount of time reading books on Buddhism, or hanging out with Buddhists, you’re likely to encounter the mysterious idea known as the “doctrine of emptiness”. I’ve never understood it, yet always liked it, probably because I’m perversely drawn to how bleakly depressing it sounds. (Buddhism is full of this downbeat stuff: for example, did you know that reincarnation, traditionally, was seen a bad thing? The goal of meditation was to stop yourself being reborn next time. It’s less a religion of smiles and flowers, more a death cult.) According to the doctrine of emptiness, all existence is, in some sense, empty. I still don’t totally understand what that means. But I’m a lot closer thanks to Robert Wright’s superb, level-headed new book Why Buddhism Is True. And the answer, it turns out, isn’t even very depressing: it could be a much-needed antidote to our increasingly angry times.
Can Christians stay in the Middle East now that they are being persecuted for their ancient religion?
So there I was this week, staring at a picture of the Virgin Mary, painted at Melitene (now Malatya in present-day Turkey), its real home in Damascus – since it belongs to the Syriac Patriarchate, but is currently kept in Lebanon because of the war – and stunned at Mary’s deeply embroidered cloak (black and blue) and the brassy shine of her golden halo. And I noticed the date. 1065. Harold had yet a year to live before his death at the Battle of Hastings. We survived the Normans. But will Christians survive the Middle East?
Every night as dusk falls in Piazza Gastone in the Noce district of Palermo, a tall, imposing Ghanaian woman dressed in traditional west African robes stands before a small congregation sweating in rows of plastic chairs before her.The Pentecostal Church of Odasani has been converted from an old garage in a backstreet into a place of worship, albeit one unrecognised by any formal faith group. But what many of the congregation – largely young Nigerian women – have come for tonight is more than prayer; it is freedom.“Nigerian women come to me for help, they have bad spirits that have been put inside their bodies by people who want to make money from them,” says the self-proclaimed prophetess, as she prepares to start her service.
No diré que no tengo miedo, porque lo tengo.No diré que no tengo rabia, porque la tengo.No diré que no me siento impotente, porque así me siento.No diré que no estoy triste, porque desde el jueves estoy muy triste.¿Y saben qué otras cosa no haré? Hablar de religión, de civilización, de “nuestros” valores, de libertad y convivencia. Y lo que no voy a hacer de ningún modo es hablar de los peligros de la islamofobia. Con los cuerpos de las víctimas aún calientes no entraré en esto, no dejaré que la paranoia que ellos mismos han sembrado me haga trazar una línea inexistente, una separación que ya he borrado desde hace tiempo entre ‘nosotros’ y ‘vosotros’. Los terroristas forman un ‘nosotros’ suyo hecho de odio y muerte. Mi ‘nosotros’ es el de la persona y no van a conseguir que, de nuevo, empiece a fijarme en los rostros de quienes me rodean para averiguar si me miran de un modo distinto. Porque hay dos tipos de personas: los que rechazan y los que no, y a los primeros no les hacen falta terroristas para justificar sus posiciones. Ahora sacan toda la bilis porque tienen la oportunidad y se sienten legitimados, pero no se equivoquen, son los mismos de siempre.
Christian conservatives don’t support Donald Trump despite his vulgarity – they support him because of it
How to account for the strange fact that Donald Trump, a lewd and morally destitute person, the very opposite of Christian decency, can function as the chosen hero of the Christian conservatives? The explanation one usually hears is that, while Christian conservatives are well aware of the problematic character of Trump’s personality, they have chosen to ignore this side of things since what really matters to them is Trump’s agenda, especially his anti-abortion stance.
If he succeeds in naming conservative new members of the Supreme Court, which will then overturn Roe v Wade, then this act will obliterate all his sins, it seems. But are things as simple as that? What if the very duality of Trump’s personality – his high moral stance accompanied by personal lewdness and vulgarities – is what makes him attractive to Christian conservatives? What if they secretly identify with this very duality?
I first read Ray Kurzweil’s book, The Age of Spiritual Machines, in 2006, a few years after I dropped out of Bible school and stopped believing in God. I was living alone in Chicago’s southern industrial sector and working nights as a cocktail waitress. I was not well. Beyond the people I worked with, I spoke to almost no one. I clocked out at three each morning, went to after-hours bars, and came home on the first train of the morning, my head pressed against the window so as to avoid the spectre of my reflection appearing and disappearing in the blackened glass.
At Bible school, I had studied a branch of theology that divided all of history into successive stages by which God revealed his truth. We were told we were living in the “Dispensation of Grace”, the penultimate era, which precedes that glorious culmination, the “Millennial Kingdom”, when the clouds part and Christ returns and life is altered beyond comprehension. But I no longer believed in this future. More than the death of God, I was mourning the dissolution of this narrative, which envisioned all of history as an arc bending towards a moment of final redemption. It was a loss that had fractured even my experience of time. My hours had become non-hours. Days seemed to unravel and circle back on themselves.
Christians are under attack in the Middle East – and not even a visit from the Pope can convince them to stay
Almost exactly a quarter of a century ago, I wrote a story for the front page of what was then The Independent’s Weekend Review. It was headlined: “Exodus: a story of Christians”. It told the tragedy of those people of the faith who were fleeing the lands of the forefathers.
I interviewed the only hermit left in Lebanon, in a cave in the north of the country, and he said to me: “I am the only hermit left in all the Middle East.” His eyes creased in happiness when I acknowledged his unique theological condition. “I will never leave Lebanon,” he said. “No Christian should leave the Holy Land. Those who have left will come back.”
He exuded faith: childlike, passionate, precise, untrammelled by contradiction or facts. And he was wrong.