Thank Allah it’s Wednesday – upholding religious diversity in the Texan Senate

6 04 2007

This is neither a very exciting post, nor a long one, but I found this article really interesting/exciting. Especially coming from Texas…

Imam leads first prayer by Muslim cleric on Texas Senate floor

A Dallas-area imam became the first Muslim cleric to offer the Texas Senate’s daily prayer on Wednesday.

The visit raised the eyebrows of a conservative talk-show host turned senator who questioned the religious leader’s background and the timing of his visit.

Sen. Dan Patrick stepped off the floor for Imam Yusuf Kavakci’s prayer, in which he recited a passage from the Koran in Arabic and read an English translation.

“I surely believe that everyone should have the right to speak, but I didn’t want my attendance on the floor to appear that I was endorsing that,” said Patrick, a freshman Republican from Houston.

Patrick later gave a short speech on the Senate floor in which he called Kavakci’s prayer an “extraordinary moment” that underscores that America is a nation “so tolerant of others we bend over backwards to allow others to pray as they wish.”

He pointed out that other countries would not do the same for Christians and Jews, who are observing Easter and Passover this week.

Kavakci said he can’t understand why anyone would have a problem with his prayer or with the text he chose, which he said spoke generically about the mercy of God. He said he does not know Patrick or understand why he would criticize him.

“For my perspective as a Muslim, we are all brothers and sisters and children of Adam and Eve as we say,” Kavakci said. “For us there is no problem really.”

Taken from statesman.com, 5th April, 2007.

News Values:

* Novelty – come on, an Islam cleric praying in Texas period. Let alone in the senate. Maybe those Texans are more progressive than our stereotypes give them credit for… (just maybe)

* Timeliness – Easter period

Another event of interest since my last post has been the publication of The Devil’s Own Politics, an investigation into the interplay between church and state in contemporary America. An interesting review can be found here.

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The saga continues (Choccy Christ Commentary)

2 04 2007

And now for some serious commentary…

This event was pretty widely covered, both in news media and significantly in blogging circles. It seems everyone has an opinion about the artistic credit and/or sacrilegiousness (yes, it is a word) of the Chocolate Jesus. You never know, that could be why we call it art… Still, best to withdraw it from the public eye before we get too much intelligent debate going on!

On 8/4/07, the Canberra Times reported Canberra ahead of the trend when it comes to chocolate Jesus. As Canberra is not known for being the most progressive city in the world, this headline must have been cause for quite a celebration! But seriously, it was a pretty funny article about a similar sculpture produced by local Richard Manderson 13 years ago.

A recent life-sized chocolate sculpture of Jesus caused fury in Manhattan, but Canberra had a chocolate Christ 13 years ago. The nude, anatomically correct sculpture in New York came under further fire when the artist joked people should eat it. But a 1994 photo of Civic near the ACTION terminal shows a crowd of 150 about to munch on a life-sized chocolate crucifix. Canberra’s maker of chocolate Christs, Richard Manderson, was then a philosophy student. He said there was less outcry in Canberra, perhaps because he used Easter egg foil for a loincloth on his statue. ”I think religion is slightly different in Australia from America for one thing,” he said.

No s*%t, Sherlock. I think this contributes to the interest of the story – the issue of the influence wielded by the “religious right” in the USA. Although I’m sure there are many Aussies who would have a similar reaction of abhorrence to the artwork, I really don’t think Australians would be as unreserved about their beliefs.

US Newsweek reported a great quote from Cavallaro, the artist/sculptor, in its article: Belief Watch: Sweet Jesus

The artist himself insists there’s nothing X-rated in his conception, although “I can’t stop people from thinking that way.” Having grown up in a house where crucifixes hung above beds, Cavallaro imagines that Christians took offense because his Christ was “perishable and palatable … It made [Jesus] a real man.”

Montreal Gazette meanwhile says in its uber-long titled article: Critics raise hell over chocolate Jesus; in a bittersweet tale of what is art and what is not, a former Montrealer has suffered death threats and workplace exile

“I’m as good as I can be,” Cavallaro said Thursday from SoHo. “It hurts in the stomach. It’s been disgusting to see people’s reactions.”

After receiving death threats, he had to move out of his Brooklyn apartment. He had already been exiled from his workspace and vilified in the tabloids by New York’s Cardinal Edward Egan, who called the work “a sickening display.”

“All I’m saying is, Jesus is alive,” Cavallaro said. “He’s a man. You can smell him, touch him, taste him. I didn’t see it as offensive, and I still don’t.”

For the record, Cavallaro was raised Catholic, although he is non-practising. He believes critics have assailed him not because the statue is obscene or hateful, but because “it’s too real. It’s not metaphysical. My goal was that it would melt – the body decomposes and all that’s left is the spirit

Quite profound really.

By contrast, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s Catholics Outraged by Chocolate Jesus offers a fairly condemning report, not giving the artist a chance to defend himself until toward the end of the 491 word story, giving priority space instead to comments such as these:

“It’s an all-out war on Christianity,” fumed William Donohue, a former sociology professor at La Roche College who is now president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. “They wouldn’t show a depiction of Martin Luther King Jr. with genitals exposed on Martin Luther King Day, and they wouldn’t show Muhammed depicted this way during Ramadan. It’s always Christians, and the timing is deliberate.”

Dominick Bria, a Connecticut resident visiting St. Patrick Cathedral yesterday, bristled at the concept. “It’s disgusting,” he said. “Whoever is doing it is really sick.”

Maria Localio, 45, agreed. “It doesn’t take into account the religious sensitivities of other people,” she said.

Others said they didn’t mind the sculptor’s choice of material, but were offended by the nudity. “He’s not wearing any clothes at all,” said Debbie Charan, 40. “Why would they want to do something like that?”

Other coverage ranges from the radical to the cynical, but all of the coverage manages to sneak in a fair portion of conflict.

Which brings us to… *drum roll*

News Values

* CONFLICT – Big time. Christianity vs Secularism, Church doctrine vs Art, Suppression of Freedom of Expression etcetera etcetera

* Timeliness – Just after the events had occurred, and also during Holy Week

* Currency – Church’s influence in society is always worth a mention. Also around Easter time, so lots of articles about on Christianity and the meaning of Easter etc.

* The Unusual/Novelty – Hello, it’s a sculpture of Jesus made entirely out of chocolate… How much more novelty value could it get?





Sacrilicious? The furore of the Chocolate Christ

1 04 2007

What am I? I will give the worthy traveller these fine clues three…

Clue 1: I’m chocolate, big and sacred (but this is not me…)

Chocolate Buddah

Clue 2: Nor is this, but getting closer…

Chocolate Chicken

Clue 3: Closer still is is this miraculous Mary formed by dripping chocolate. Neat, huh? It’s truly a sign from above. But it’s not me.

Chocolate Mary the Miracle

No, no, no. The wait is over. This is me. Voici la Chocolat le Christ…

TADDAH…

Choc Christ with Nutrition Information

Who would have thought a chocolate sculpture of the divine could prompt death threats. Death threats, that is, from Christians who, by all accounts, attest to believing in a Christ who advocated love above all things. An interesting little paradox emerging there. Apparently the problem was not only the blatancy of the “attack” on Christianity in general during Holy Week, but the visibility of the Lord’s genitalia. Here I was thinking He was a man. WRONG. He was actually one of those funky god/man hybrids who, when disrobed, rather resemble a dismembered statue. You know the ones with fig leaves in place of genitals. Weird, huh?!?

The controversy, described by the head of the Catholic League (that’s right, the Catholic League – HUWAH) as “one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities eva*,” erupted when “My Sweet Lord”, an anatomically detailed sculpture of Jesus was unveiled this week in New York. I mean, seriously, it’s got to be right up there with the crusades dude. The 1.8 metre high masterpiece, crafted entirely out of milk chocolate, is Cosimo Cavarallo’s latest large-scale artwork. Quite a feat I feel to actually carve that much chocolate. Let alone then have it hold together while being transported and hung up. The man deserves a medal. It’s also quite a step up from some of his previous efforts which include covering a room of the Washington Jefferson hotel in New York with cheddar cheese. And all in the name of art.

The director of the gallery where the Christ was to be installed, Matt Semmler, announced that neither he nor the artist had intended to offend by creating and showing the artwork.

“For me this is … a place of reverence and meditation – that’s why I chose the piece. This is not intended to be disrespectful.”

In the end, anyway, the religious right won over and the exhibit was withdrawn. Only after the Catholic League made further statements which implied that the artist should be thankful he was not dealing with Muslims. Those damn feisty Muslims. The Guardian reports:

Bill Donahue, president of the Catholic League, said the work was a direct assault on Christians. “All those involved are lucky that angry Christians don’t react the way extremist Muslims do when they’re offended.”

That the work of an internationally renowned artist can be pulled from a gallery in Manhattan – arguably the most liberal city in the US – is an indication of the power that organised religion wields within the country.

My personal belief is that the real ruckus was due more to the correctness of the colour of Jesus rather than the materials or anatomy… Not just the abhorrent brown skin, but the conspicuous-only-by-its-absence flowing blonde wig. What an insult to Western sensibilities!

Even Tom Waits has weighed in on the debate, penning a moving song Chocolate Jesus. Profound lyrics include the following:

Well it’s got to be a chocolate Jesus
Make me feel good inside
Got to be a chocolate Jesus
Keep me satisfied

And meanwhile, other sanctified culinary masterpieces throwing the nation into controversy…

It’s bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S. And it ain’t no hollaback Jeeze.

* OK, I admit it. I changed the spelling to make it sound more gangsta-style. I’m sure I was capturing the original intention of the statement…





Get hydrated with a Higher Power

28 03 2007

Holy water…

An interesting article emerged in the Montreal Gazette, among other news sources, over the weekend detailing the release of a new series of Holy Water products available for purchase over the internet and delivered to your home. All with a sin-cleansing guarantee.

Here are the three main front runners on the water-front of the lucrative godly goods market, big business which is forecast to generate $9.5 billion by 2010…

California based Holy Drinking Water

This is the brainchild of California businessman, Brian Germann, who self-professedly “thought people should have something like Holy Water that they could drink and consume and it would help protect them from the devil.” The contents have been blessed by clergy and, according to the label, can cause “burning, intense heat, sweating, skin irritations, rashes, itchiness, vomiting, bloodshot and watery eyes, pale skin colour and oral irritations” when imbibed by those who are “evil in nature.” However, several Catholic authorities disapprove of shopping for salvation, or in church jargon “simony”, as they see this as an abhorrent commercial venture similar to the indulgences sold by their own denomination back in the day of Martin Luther. How could they say such a thing?!?

Holy Drinking Water now has an online donation facility where, due to popular demand, customers can now donate Holy Drinking Water TM to troops in Iraq “for spiritual support and to boost heir spirits.”

Holy Bottled Water

Alberta based Holy Bottled Water (Yes, the photo shows the actual packaging of the beverage… Subtle, me thinks)

Alas, it is not just the bible-belt US cashing in on Jesus. Canadian Holy Bottled Water has also jumped on the bandwagon, labelling their produce with a lovely biblical proverb and caliming to have been “produced by man under the inspiration of God.” Since they’ve just finished extolling the virtues of the Rocky Mountain springs from whence the water came, I am a little puzzled as to where the “production” side really comes in. Let alone the “inspired” production.
Finally, and most hilariously…

Holy Spring Water

OK, I admit this one is not actually a serious company. The satisfaction guarantee on their website (worth a visit for some fine hilarity) reads:

Of the thousands of bottles that we have sold, we have only had a handful of returns, and no one has gone to hell. Our goal is to make our customers happy and free from the guilt of venial sin… Finally, and most importantly, that if you drink our water and follow the directions carefully, we guarantee that you will NOT GO TO HELL.

The FAQ section gives details ranging from the thermodynamics of hell to the punishment awaiting Bill Gates upon his arrival down below. Upon trying to order some of the brew, one is greeted with the message:

Your order has been placed, the confirmation number is 5551212.

God knows everything, so we don’t need your address and we don’t need your credit card number.

Thank you for your order.

However, whilst this site parodies the legitimate salvation product companies (which, amusingly, it also hosts ads for) it’s exaggeration is not really all that far from the truth, and it serves as a pretty convincing hoax.

And just in case some of you sinners out there were thinking of trying the stuff…

Vomiting SinnerSweating SinnerIrritated Sinner

REMEMBER THE WARNINGS!!!!

All of the articles I read about this topic seemed to take a very light approach to the telling of the story. Clearly the news value most prevalent is the unusual or novelty value of the story. This is, at best a silly, light and amusing tale. At worst, it shows the utter tragedy of the commercialisation rife in contemporary society, particularly in America.





Pork is a Very Sweet Meat…

25 03 2007

Moo-shoe Pork

Just a quick one to post a few interesting things I came across. Firstly, a report from FOXNews.com on controversial allowances being made for Islamic employees in some target stores – Some Target Stores Change Duties for Muslim Cashiers Who Object to Ringing Up Pork. It discusses briefly some of the issues faced by Muslims trying to uphold their faith in contemporary America, where it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so. Issues ranging from refusing alcohol-toting passengers in cabs to being “complicit in the sins of others” by scanning pork products at the supermarket.

As the local Muslim population grows, fueled by immigration from East African countries such as Somalia, efforts by Muslims to live by the rules of their faith often conflict with American realities.

In one dispute, some Muslim cab drivers who serve Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport refuse to take passengers who are carrying alcohol. The Metropolitan Airports Commission is expected to vote in April on a proposal that would hand out 30-day license suspensions to cabbies who refuse service for any reason.

Suhara Robla, who works at a SuperTarget, told the Star Tribune newspaper that more than a dozen Muslim cashiers were asked Thursday to do other jobs.

“They told all of us who don’t touch pork to go to the sales floor,” she told the newspaper. “They really didn’t say why. They just said it was a new policy.”

Hmm. Interesting.

And I found this article I was in the middle of writing a fascinating commentary on and then discovered it was from July ’06. Woops-a-daisy.

And now back to current events…

The Tampa Tribune reports Religious Right at a Low Point. This feature reports on the waning influence of the so-called “Religious Right” in the USA. Bible-belt faithfuls have reportedly been meeting to reinvigorate the conservative movement in US politics, following concerns about the appointment of moderate Charlie Crist as governor of Florida and the takeover of congress by the Democrats.

Read it all– it’s really interesting.

TAMPA – At dawn Wednesday, a busload of parishioners from Idlewild Baptist Church will board a bus for a two-day trip to Tallahassee to meet state legislators, after which they’ll come home armed to do grass-roots advocacy for conservative causes.

At 4 p.m. each day, lobbyist Bill Bunkley dons a headset in a small studio across from the state Capitol and hosts a political radio show on Tampa’s Christian talk radio station WTBN, 570 and 910 AM.

On April 4, a group of leaders of religious and conservative organizations from across the nation will meet in Washington to decide whether they can agree on a presidential candidate to support.

These people all are working to advance a cause some say is waning or dead, the social and religious conservative movement in U.S. politics.





If triangles had a God, He’d have three sides

20 03 2007

Pink Triangle

Mmmm. That’s a profound one. It’s an old Yiddish proverb by the way… I didn’t just make it up for the darn fun of it…
And I am being serious. It’s an interesting thought. I’m guessing that it’s making a comment on how societies construct gods in their own image from what they understand of the world. It is very interesting, though, that the proverb has come from a Yiddish context… I’d like to meet a three-sided God. Maybe I should have been born a triangle…

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. What has been going on in the world of religion this week?

Well, the talk of the town is Brangelina‘s adoption of yet another poor, unfortunate soul who now has the golden opportunity to come to the land of milk and honey and paparazzi. Although this is not, strictly speaking a religious event, one could easily argue that Brad and Angelina, both winners of numerous glamour and good-looks polls, are among the new gods created in Western society today. Although they are not quite in the image of many of the population of the world (unfortunately, as that would be a very good-looking society…) they do epitomise the longings of Who Weekly readers the world over.

On a more traditional note, here’s what else has been happening recently….

American ABC News reports on a new movement called GodMen, an uber-accepting, in-touch-their-feminine-side, intelligent group of Christian men whose self-proclaimed mission is to toughen up other men of a less butch Christian persuasion in Group Advocates Macho Christianity. Founder, comic Brad Stine decided one day that he was sick of walking into church and seeing ferns – an icon of sissiness and femininity – and did something about it. GodMen. The new macho way of meeting God. “It’s about men stepping up and being strong again,” Stine said. HUWAH. (That was an ultra macho karate chop, by the way…)

The group conducts its masculine business from a Tennessee shopping mall, performing “daylong sessions of stunts and speeches.” All fern-free.

Men need movements like GodMen because Christians have been taught about a Jesus who’s too nice to be real, said life coach and Christian radio show host Paul Coughlin. The leaders of GodMen contend that church, as most men know it, has gotten too sissy.

“A meek and mild Jesus… eventually is a bore,” he said.

GodMen is inspired more by the Jesus who went after moneychangers with a whip — a Jesus that’s assertive and courageous.

“What we’re saying is that… we’ve been taught the loving guy, the beautiful guy… When we walk into a church, we see ferns. We’re not used to that. We want something that shows the masculine side as well,” Stine said.

Meanwhile, in other news…

The New York Times religion brief was remarkably interesting this week (15th march). That is why I shall proceed to remark on it.

A lot has happened in the sensational world of homosexuality and religion in recent times. The University of Judaism’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles has made history this week by accepting its first homosexual students following a legal upheaval by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards which allows synagogues to decide for themselves whether or not to accept homosexual people. Although the school’s website yielded nothing more recent than a 2005 statement banning the knowing admission of sexually active homosexuals into the school, the wikipedia article on the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards enlightens a little as to the details of this controversial decision.

According to wikipedia,

“In December 2006 a majority vote of the CJLS … accepted an innovative and controversial responsum which allows homosexual Jews to become rabbis and cantors, “Homosexuality, Human Dignity, and Halakhah” by Rabbis Elliot N. Dorff, Daniel S. Nevins, and Avram I. Reisner.”

The move reportedly led to the protest resignation of four members of the Committee. However, the article continues that another contradictory responsum was adopted which maintained the traditional prohibitions on homosexual conduct. So I’m not entirely sure what the legal conclusion of the episode was. Regardless, it appears the Ziegler School has made a brave move in accepting homosexual students. Although this may seem a basic civil right to a non-Jewish, relatively queer-friendly society, it is seen as a crucially important move for a traditionally conservative group. As is clearly apparent from the resignation of four members over the decision…

And speaking of basic civil rights… The NY Times brief also reports on the controversy inspired by a Lutheran minister who announced to his congregation that he had found love. Rev. Bradley Schmeling had disclosed (that makes it sound like such a crime, but I can’t think of a better word… Sorry) his sexuality to both his congregation and his bishop before being employed to lead Atlanta’s oldest Lutheran church.

When he made the announcement to his 350-strong congregation, they held a party for he and his partner, however, when church authorities heard, he was asked to step down from his post. His refusal to do so led to a court case which is still in progress. The president of his congregation said before the trial that the congregation wished to keep Schmeling on as their pastor, even if it meant being thrown out of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Good for them, I say.





It’s hard to be religious when certain people are never incinerated by bolts of lightning – Calvin and Hobbes

18 03 2007

GnuUpon walking into the newsagent last Friday, I was accosted by a flying lady throwing magazines at me. The one (out of three…) that I caught was the week’s edition of “The Bulletin”. Since I would usually struggle to grasp a falling gnu in my outspread arms, I took this as a sign from God that I ought to purchase a copy. Well, that and the arresting “Jesus Loves Money” headline splashed across a silhouetted angel (which suggested a faint possibility of the innards being of relevance to this topic…)

The headline turned out to refer to a fascinating article (7/3/2007), “Book of Revelations“*, discussing the internal workings of the controversial Hillsong Church. The crux of the article tells of Tanya Levin, a disillusioned ex-member of the church, whose book “People in glass houses: how Hillsong became an assembly of Gods” was recently axed from publication by Allen and Unwin, citing legal reasons.

Though these reasons are unclear in this article, a previous Bulletin article (27/2/2007), “Unhappy Clappy“* mentions the publishing house’s concerns about defamation claims by the church. Although corporations cannot sue, the Church, which has an estimated annual tax-free turnover of $50 million, is considered a not-for-profit organisation, and is therefore able to sue away to its (well-obscured) heart’s content.

The withdrawal from publication has caused quite a public reaction, not only due to the disappointment caused to those anticipating the book’s release, but also sparking concerns about the power of religious institutions in society and the apparency of influence on censorship and freedom of speech.

The 8 page feature includes an extract from Levin’s novel consisting of personal anecdotes of life in the church as well as facts on Brian and Bobbie Houston, the couple who founded the Hillsong Church back in 1983. Included also is a column on “Christianese,” a “list of phrases you might encounter at Hillsong, but … can also be useful for interpreting any TV evangelist.” The list includes satirical definitions from “AWESOME: Originally a Valley Girl word, used at Hillsong as a high holy word,” through to “THE THRONE ZONE”, an epitomical evangelist term for Heaven.

Levin explains aspects of the Houstons’ notion of “Prosperity Theology”: the general idea being that money is a panacaea for the world’s ills, justifying Brian’s Harley Davidson bike as “the best way of demonstrating the blessing of God in his life.”

Apart from her own dissatisfaction with the materialism this theology promotes, Levin also tells of a touching encounter with a prison inmate who had been involved in the “Jesus [rehab] program” with the church.

An inmate in a NSW jail was bailed to a Hillsong rehabilitation service. On the first day he was there, one of the young millionaire businessmen leaders took him out to show him his sports car. The idea was to get the client to realise that with a bit of elbow grease and some commitment to the Jesus program, he to could have a car like that one day.

“Tanya he tried to impress me with money,” the young man told me from the jail, where he chose to return rather than continue under the Jesus program. “We’re drug dealers, criminals, working girls. We’ve seen more money than most people. We know what money can do to people. We don’t want to learn how to make money. We need to know how to handle what we’ve got.”

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