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The Sexual Misery of the Arab World

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A very interesting column by Kamel Daoud in the NY Times:

ORAN, Algeria — AFTER Tahrir came Cologne. After the square came sex. The Arab revolutions of 2011 aroused enthusiasm at first, but passions have since waned. Those movements have come to look imperfect, even ugly: For one thing, they have failed to touch ideas, culture, religion or social norms, especially the norms relating to sex. Revolution doesn’t mean modernity.

The attacks on Western women by Arab migrants in Cologne, Germany, on New Year’s Eve evoked the harassment of women in Tahrir Square itself during the heady days of the Egyptian revolution. The reminder has led people in the West to realize that one of the great miseries plaguing much of the so-called Arab world, and the Muslim world more generally, is its sick relationship with women. In some places, women are veiled, stoned and killed; at a minimum, they are blamed for sowing disorder in the ideal society. In response, some European countries have taken to producing guides of good conduct to refugees and migrants.

Sex is a complex taboo, arising, in places like Algeria, Tunisia, Syria or Yemen, out of the ambient conservatism’s patriarchal culture, the Islamists’ new, rigorist codes and the discreet puritanism of the region’s various socialisms. That makes a good combination for obstructing desire or guilt-tripping and marginalizing those who feel any. And it’s a far cry from the delicious licentiousness of the writings of the Muslim golden age, like Sheikh Nafzawi’s “The Perfumed Garden of Sensual Delight,” which tackled eroticism and the Kama Sutra without any hang-ups.

Today sex is a great paradox in many countries of the Arab world: One acts as though it doesn’t exist, and yet it determines everything that’s unspoken. Denied, it weighs on the mind by its very concealment. Although women are veiled, they are at the center of our connections, exchanges and concerns.

Women are a recurrent theme in daily discourse, because the stakes they personify — for manliness, honor, family values — are great. In some countries, they are allowed access to the public sphere only if they renounce their bodies: To let them go uncovered would be to uncover the desire that the Islamist, the conservative and the idle youth feel and want to deny. Women are seen as . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

13 February 2016 at 9:57 am

Pope Saint John Paul II

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A few passages from an interesting article by Alexander Stile in the New Yorker:

. . . Most cases of abuse were handled (or not handled) by local bishops and archbishops, but some were adjudicated by Cardinal Ratzinger’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The most prominent of these cases was that of Father Marcial Maciel, a favorite of Pope John Paul II and the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, a powerful Mexican religious order that, at its pinnacle, included eight hundred priests, fifteen universities, and a hundred and fifty prep schools, as well as a lay movement with a reported seventy thousand followers.

In the seventies and eighties, former members of the Legionaries reported that, as young boys, they had been sexually abused by Maciel. As the Church later acknowledged, the complainants were highly credible and had no ulterior motives: they were not seeking monetary compensation or notoriety. They followed Church procedures by filing formal charges through ecclesiastical courts in Rome, but nothing was done. In fact, Pope John Paul II called on Maciel to accompany him on papal visits to Mexico in 1979, 1990, and 1993.
When one of the former Legionaries expressed his frustration, in the lawsuit, about the Church’s inaction, Berry and Renner reported in their book, the Legionaries’ own canon lawyer, Martha Wegan, who made no secret that her first loyalty was to the Church, replied, “It is better for eight innocent men to suffer than for millions to lose their faith.” . . .
. . . Though the sexual-abuse crisis reached its peak in the public sphere during Benedict XVI’s papacy, the single figure most responsible for ignoring this extraordinary accumulation of depravity is the sainted John Paul II. In the context of his predecessor’s deplorable neglect, Pope Benedict gets slightly higher marks than most. In 2001, he acted to give his office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, jurisdiction over all sexual-abuse cases, and soon he began to push the Maciel investigation, despite considerable Vatican opposition. After ascending the throne of St. Peter, he became the first Pope to kick predator priests out of the Church: in 2011 and 2012, the last two full years of his papacy, the Church defrocked three hundred and eighty-four offending priests. . .
. . .Ratzinger understood better than most, if late, that priestly abuse was the negation of everything the Church was supposed to stand for. But, for much of his career, his focus and priorities were elsewhere. During most of his tenure, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was too busy disciplining anyone who dared step out of line with Church teachings on personal sexuality and family planning to bother with the thousands of priests molesting children. In 2009, a nun named Margaret McBride sat on the ethics committee of a San Diego hospital that had to decide the case of a pregnant woman whose doctors believed that she (and her fetus) would die if they did not terminate her pregnancy. The committee voted to allow an abortion, and the woman’s life was saved. Almost immediately, McBride’s bishop informed her of her excommunication. It took multiple decades and thousands of cases of predatory behavior to begin defrocking priests, but not much more than twenty-four hours to excommunicate a nun trying to save a human life. In 2011, also under Pope Benedict, the Vatican lifted its excommunication of McBride. . .

John Paul II is presumably the patron saint and protector of pedophiles, as is appropriate.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 January 2016 at 10:35 am

Posted in Religion

Religion doesn’t make kids more generous or altruistic

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Many find it difficult to believe that a non-religious person can be moral, which I find quite puzzling. Presumably, they are saying that if they lost faith in their religion, they would embrace immorality, which makes one wary of them. But a study shows that in fact religion can have negative consequences regarding morality and altruism. Karen Kaplan reports in the LA Times:

Here’s a discovery that could make secular parents say hallelujah: Children who grow up in nonreligious homes aremore generous and altruistic than children from observant families.

A series of experiments involving 1,170 kids from a variety of religious backgrounds found that the non-believers were more likely to share stickers with their classmates and less likely to endorse harsh punishments for people who pushed or bumped into others.

The results “contradict the common-sense and popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind toward others,” according to a study published this week in the journal Current Biology.

Worldwide, about 5.8 billion people consider themselves religious, and religion is a primary way for cultures to express their ideas about proper moral behavior — especially behavior that involves self-sacrifice for the sake of others.

It’s often taken as an article of faith that religion promotes altruism. If that is true, then “children reared in religious families should show stronger altruistic behavior,” wrote the members of the research team, which was led by University of Chicago neuroscientist Jean Decety.

To see whether this was indeed the case, Decety and his colleagues recruited children from seven cities around the world: Chicago; Toronto; Amman, Jordan; Izmir and Istanbul in Turkey; Cape Town, South Africa; and Guangzhou, China. All of the kids were between 5 and 12 years old.

Among them, 24% were from Christian households, 43% were Muslim, 2.5% were Jewish, 1.6% were Buddhist, 0.4% were Hindu, 0.2% were agnostic and 0.5% were classified as “other.” In addition, 28% of the kids came from families described as “not religious.”

The researchers showed each child a collection of 30 stickers and told the kids they could keep the 10 they liked best. Then the researchers told their young subjects they wouldn’t have time to play the sticker game with every student in the school, so some kids wouldn’t get any.

The children responded by sharing some of the stickers with their classmates — and the kids from secular households shared more stickers than their religious counterparts. When the researchers examined the three biggest groups of kids, they found that the generosity scores for Christians and Muslims were essentially the same, and that the scores for nonreligious children were 23% to 28% higher.

The researchers also found that the more religious the family, the less altruistic the child. This pattern held up for all religions in the study.

The researchers also noted that the relationship between religiousness and altruism was more pronounced among the older kids (those between the ages of 8 and 12). That was notable, they wrote, because older children had more years of religious experience under their belts than younger children.

In another part of the experiment, the researchers showed the kids a series of scenarios involving bumping, pushing or other types of “interpersonal harm.” They they asked the kids to rate the meanness of the offenders.

Muslim kids judged the offenders most harshly, followed by Christian kids and then secular kids.  Accordingly, the children from Muslim families endorsed harsher punishments than kids in the other two groups, who were essentially tied on this score, according to the study.

These results seem to fly in the face of the idea that religion is necessary to lead a moral life — a notion “so deeply embedded that individuals who are not religious can be considered morally suspect,” as the study authors put it.

The findings “call into question whether religion is vital for moral development,” the researchers concluded. They don’t seem to think so; separating religion from morality, they wrote, “will not reduce human kindness — in fact, it will do just the opposite.” . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2016 at 9:27 am

Ayahuasca: a Possible Cure for Alcoholism and Depression

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A very interesting article by Pablo Noguiera in Motherboard:

Jorge* is around 60 years old, works a white collar job, has gray hair, married children, and grown grandchildren. People who work with him would never imagine that he participates in religious rituals using a mind altering tea.

And yet, thanks to ayahuasca, Jorge became a teetotaler. A big change for someone who, when he was younger, would buy several cases of whiskey at once. “I opened the boxes and started emptying the bottles in the kitchen sink. My wife was shocked,” he told me.

He’s not the only alcoholic to renounce booze after an experience with the mystical drink. In 2010, after a decade of failed treatments, Robert Rhatigan took a trip to the Peruvian Amazon, where he participated in four rituals conducted by a shaman. During a speech at a TEDx event, he recounted how he “saw” the “several components from his mind floating in space, as if they were pieces of a puzzle” while under the effects of ayahuasca. The experience lasted two hours and included hymns sung by the shaman and severe purging sessions. By the end of the ceremony, he “saw” the pieces returning to his head. The one that corresponded to his alcohol addiction no longer fit in. There he knew that he was cured. “My transformation is something far from understood in Western medicine,” he says.

There are some hospitals, universities, and research institutes in the West and around the world that are experimenting with powerful psychoactive substances, such as psilocybin, ibogaine and even LSD are being analyzed in hospitals and research institutes all around the world.

“Regarding ayahuasca studies, Brazil is at the forefront of research,” said Luis Fernando Tófoli, professor of the medical psychology and psychiatry department of Unicamp and coordinator of the Laboratory of Interdisciplinary Studies of psychoactive drugs, in Portuguese.

This year, a study conducted by Brazilian researchers was published in Nature. The piece examined the effects of the drink on two men and four women who showed symptoms of depression, ranging from moderate to severe. The participants consumed ayahuasca only once in doses that ranged between 120ml to 200ml prepared by a church of Santo Daime. They then had their mental health monitored through three questionnaires repeated eight times, the first one 40 minutes after intake and the last one three weeks later.

The results showed that . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

25 December 2015 at 12:54 pm

No Depression in Heaven

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This is, via Salon, an excerpt from the book No Depression in Heaven: The Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Transformation of Religion in the Delta, by Allison Collis Greene, Assistant Professor of History at Mississippi State University:

My grandmother washed out used paper towels and hung them on the clothesline to use again. She spent painstaking hours piecing quilts of mismatched and worn-out fabric scraps or odds and ends from the knitting mill where she worked because she could not fathom buying new material. “We didn’t know we was poor,” Grandma said nearly every time she told us a story about her childhood. It was not a boast. It was an apology: an apology because she had to quit school after sixth grade and never again felt smart; an apology because she spoke in a mountain accent so thick that my friends from college scarcely understood her; an apology because she was a child of the Great Depression. Those words also acknowledged the still deeper poverty that Grandma knew surrounded her, the real and urgent need for outside help as hunger and despair crept into households once happy and humming. By the twenty-first century, the depression generation would become the Greatest Generation, idealized in the popular consciousness as plucky, selfless, and self-sufficient. They grew their own food. They went to church every Sunday. They helped their neighbors. They defeated Hitler. Maybe they suffered some deprivation during the Great Depression, but that just taught them the value of saving and thrift. “We didn’t know we was poor,” or some variation of it, became a common phrase, a badge of honor that set the Greatest Generation apart from their spoiled offspring, who turned to the government instead of one another when things got rough.

This rendering of history erases one of the most traumatic episodes of twentieth-century American life and turns it instead into a morality tale about the value of family and community. There is no room in Great Depression nostalgia for parents forced to abandon their children to orphanages because they would otherwise starve, for communities fractured as their residents fled in the vain hope that any place had to be better than where they were, or for evicted farmers forced out of their homes onto frozen soil. That sanitized narrative of the depression erases the voiced suffering of millions, the murmurs of revolution that swept Franklin Roosevelt into office. That is, in the end, the point of it.

This book tells a story that the myth of the redemptive depression obscures. There is truth in the myth, of course: members of families and communities indeed turned to one another in their hardship, and many also turned to their churches for solace, for support, for meaning. Yet that turning together revealed only the inadequacy of families, communities, and churches full of poor people to aid one another in their time of mutual distress. The Great Depression gave lie to the toxic notion that responsibility for poverty lies with the poor rather than with systems of oppression that make a mockery of the American dream. Members of families, communities, and churches turned to one another, and then they turned together to demand more of their political system, more of their federal government. The greatest power of the Greatest Generation was their collective acknowledgment that they could not go it alone.Nowhere was this transformation more dramatic than in the South. For a moment, the southern Protestant establishment faced the suffering that plantation capitalism pushed behind its public image of planters’ hats and hoopskirts and mountains of pure white cotton. When starving white farmers marched into an Arkansas town to demand food for their dying children, when priests turned away hungry widows and orphans because they were no needier than anyone else, and when visitors claimed that moonshiners did as much as churches to feed the hungry, southern clergy of both races spoke with almost one voice to say that they had done all they could. Their churches and their charities were broke. It was time for a higher power to intervene. They looked to God, and then they looked to Roosevelt.

When Roosevelt promised a new deal for the “forgotten man,” Americans cheered, and when he took office, the churches and private agencies gratefully turned much of the responsibility for welfare and social reform over to the state. Yet Roosevelt’s New Deal threatened plantation capitalism even as it bent to it. Black southern churches worked to secure benefits for their own community members, while white churches divided over their loyalties to Roosevelt and Jim Crow. Frustrated by their failure to alleviate the depression and split over the New Deal, leaders in the major white Protestant denominations surrendered their moral authority in the South and then blamed the federal government for its loss.

The Great Depression revealed the inability of American religious institutions to care for the needy in the midst of crisis, and it opened new opportunities for the state to take on the burden instead. From the poorest sharecropper in Arkansas to the wealthiest philanthropist in New York, depression-era Americans re-envisioned the relationship between church and state and re-evaluated the responsibilities of each for the welfare of the nation and its people. Yet the Great Depression was a profoundly local experience that affected each region of the nation and its residents in distinct ways.

In Memphis and the Arkansas and Mississippi Delta, economic crisis compounded an ongoing agricultural depression and coincided with a devastating drought. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 December 2015 at 12:33 pm

The importance of freedom of religion varies a lot

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Written by LeisureGuy

15 December 2015 at 9:55 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Religion

The Quran and the Bible, compared

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This story in the Telegraph describes how a Bible with some verses highlighted was given the dust jacket of the Quran, and people were asked what they thought of the verses.

After it’s revealed the verses they’ve been reading are actually from the Bible, those taking part reflect on the assumptions they’d been making about the texts. “It’s all just prejudice really,” one says. “I always try not to be prejudiced myself but apparently I already am. It’s just something you do unconsciously.”

Video is below, but I got to thinking about a quiz: take 30 bloodthirsty verses, 15 each from the Bible and the Quran, and 30 loving verses, 15 each from the Bible and the Quran. Scramble the 60 verses randomly, and then hand out the quiz and have people mark the source of each verse, Bible or Quran. For example:

Circle the source:

[Bible]   [Quran]  –  “If you do not obey Me, but act with hostility against Me … you will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters.”

I’d love to see a summary of the results.

Here’s the video from the Telegraph story. More at the link above.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 December 2015 at 10:10 am

Posted in Religion, Video

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