Religion, Lately: Biblical Immigration, Heavy Metal Church, Cat Stevens v. Yusuf Islam, and the Religious Complexities of the Culture Wars

06-18-2010 UT Jedi Twighlight Cub Scout Camp 036By Kenny Smith…Evangelicals are, apparently, quite divided on the issue of immigration reform, and read their Bibles accordingly. Some conclude that because Jesus and the Hebrew Prophets consistently speak of our obligation to care for strangers and the poor, a way to citizenship should be opened up for undocumented workers and their families in contemporary America. Others insist that because in within the Hebrew Bible God warns the ancient Israelites about the dangers of importing foreign ways (e.g., the danger of intermarriage), we need “Biblical Immigration”: walls, not ways.

Although the number of Jedi remains relatively small in most countries, these folk seem especially busy with so many Jedi training exercises, Jedi weddings and summer camps, knighting ceremonies, and light-saber practicing, that some Christian writers are concerned about the “thousands that are foregoing Jesus Christ to become one with the Force.” In the years that followed the appearance of some 400,000 “Jedi” on the UK Census of 2001, members of the band “Saxon” began a similar campaign around the notion of a Church of Heavy Metal. A decade later? “It’s a church… right up there behind Jediism and Druidism.”

catstevensWhy is it, one writer asks, that “Cat Stevens” has been nominated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, when Cat Stevens changed his name to Yusuf Islam in 1978? More, “if the Hall of Fame doesn’t want to consider the full narrative of Cat Stevens and Yusuf Islam, why nominate him in the first place?” A compelling question. As this year’s Hajj in Mecca is now complete (Oct 13-18), the press reflects upon its primary events, and some American Muslims claim to have been brutally attacked during their pilgrimage.

As Pagans and Wiccans prepare for Samhain celebrations (Oct 31), one writer considers the “common religious ground” connecting their traditions with popular Christianity, while others plan for a “common book” of prayer and practice for witches and witchcraft. Good luck on that. Pagans and Wiccans of all kinds are, it appears, encouraged to audition for an upcoming TV reality show.

If staking out an SBNR (“spiritual but not religious”) identity represents a growing trend in contemporary America, a new study suggests that such identities are more complex than simple narratives of church decline and solitary practice suggest.

A new round of atheist billboards has gone up around the U.S. and may well be perceived as offensive by some. But USA Today claims that for most Americans, no religion = no big deal. Perhaps this is the case in one Florida suburb, where an eight-foot high “Festivus Pole” (based upon the Seinfeld sitcom and apparently intended as an atheist alternative to Christian nativity scenes) was constructed out of beer cars but has drawn little attention. That said, CNN’s Belief Blog writes of ongoing “billboard wars” in Times Square, and Oprah as well as Pat Roberson (who are rarely on the same page about anything) offer critiques of atheism: for Oprah, an atheistic life is devoid of awe and wonder; for Robertson, atheism represents a prelude to a Nazi takeover. (Perhaps they’re not on the same page.)


On a related note, in one Sacramento suburb an agnostic citizen concerned over the presence of prayer at public meetings of his local government had himself ordained as a minister in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster in order to serve as a prayer leader at a public meeting of his local government. His message: ‘God, I’m not sure you wish to be an item on the city’s docket; I’m not sure non-believers are being respected; but if we’re going to have prayer, why not bring in Scientologists and Wiccans as well?’ So if, as the Washington Post suggests, “atheists are ultimately winning the culture war,” any such “victory” may end up a rather complex and unpredictable affair indeed.

What’s up with the Church of Scientology? In Amsterdam, the Church was recently granted tax-exempt status. In France, the highest court finds the Church guilty of widespread fraud. In Tel Aviv, Scientologists celebrated International Peace day by handing out The Way to Happiness in Hebrew and Arabic.

Read the Pew Research Center’s study of American Jews? Here’s an intriguing ethnographic response to the very categories the Pew study employed, at least as they are perceived by a handful of American Jewish Millennials. In Baltimore, Conservative Jews plan the revitalization of the movement!

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