By Kenny Smith…While notions of “religion” are deployed in a rather simplistic manner, Fox News offers an otherwise thoughtful interview with a Jedi teacher and a journalist who “spent a weekend” with them. Is it a religion, a philosophy, a way of life? You decide.
In a more typical manner, Fox hosted an angry debate concerning recent atheist billboards and whether religion or non-religion are “irrational.” Elsewhere in atheisdom, free Bible apps (such as YouVersion) are used to disprove the Bible’s legitimacy: “Reading the full story with all its contradictions and violence and sexism, it should make you think, ‘Is this really what I believe in?’”
By Kenny Smith…In his recent piece in the Atlantic, “Taking a Hellish Tour of America’s Most Satanic Landmarks,” John Metcalf notes the many places across the U.S. “whose names draw on demonic, hellish, and Satan-flavored elements… Devil’s Swamp, Mount Evil, Satan Hill, Lucifer Falls, Lake Chaos… and in one case, a highway so damned the authorities had to change its name.” Thousands of such sites have, apparently, been brought together in the United States Devil Map which, Metcalf suggests, creates the impression that “the country’s pioneers picked geographic names by sacrificing goats and studying the entrails for messages from Dark Lord Lucifer.”
By Lauren Cooper, Georgia State University…I love books. Specifically, I love works of speculative fiction that are concerned with a dystopian near-future and the creation of new religious traditions in the face of a deteriorating human culture. But hey, who doesn’t love that kind of stuff, right? This is why I suggest that everyone read Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy. In these three novels- Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, and MaddAddam- Atwood creates several new Christian traditions that are so realistic to the point of being a little creepy. I think this is because they seem recognizable, almost as if you have heard of them before, on the news or in school or something.
By Karli Robinson-Myers, Georgia State University
For those of us that support community activism, helping those less fortunate, and especially interfaith dialog, news reports of an atheist group turned away while trying to volunteer at a Christian run soup kitchen in South Carolina last month was gut wrenching. According to the Christian Post, the Upstate Atheists group approached the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen in Spartanburg, South Carolina, to assist with giving out food to the needy. They were upfront about being an atheist group, but they assured the church they would not wear shirts with labels to promote their organization. The church’s kitchen director, Lou Landrum, told them they were not allowed to participate because they had “ulterior motives,” says Eve Brannon, president of the Upstate Atheists.
By Kenny Smith…This year’s Halloween’s top-ten Biblically themed costumes? Pharaoh, Naughty Nun, Priest with Enormous Erection (cleverly packaged as “Keeping Up The Faith”), and of course Zombie Nuns (said to be marked down 20%!). What do practicing witches actually think about Halloween? Some hate it. Some love it. In Mumbai, Wiccans used the holiday Samhain (also on October 31) as an occasion for casting protective spells for the benefit of women in India. And while many continue to lump Wiccans. Pagans, and Satanists together, Real Housewives of Beverley Hills’ Carlton Gebbia stakes out a religious identity not reducible to any of these exactly: “I’m Celtic, which is my ancestry. And I practice witchcraft. My grandmother was a Pagan… There’s no one defined answer.”
By Kate Daley-Bailey…I have recently had the good fortune of having various scholars come in and speak with my Religion and Media course. Dr. Russell McCutcheon, noted scholar and head of the Religious Studies Department at the University of Alabama, has recently created a collaborative website dedicated to investigating cultural constructions and identity formation (Culture on the Edge: Studies in Identity Formation). The website welcomes professors currently teaching classes to request a virtual class visit from one of the scholars writing for the site. Given my course title and topic, I knew this website would be a vital resource. Taking Dr. McCutcheon up on his gracious offer to Skype with my class, I took the first step towards integrating Skype into my courses.
By Summar Shoaib
In a recent speech at the Values Voters Summit, a conservative political conference, Rand Paul spoke about a “war on Christianity,” citing the Boston Marathon bombing as proof. Acknowledging that some may not see this as evidence, he emphasizes that “they certainly didn’t target a mosque.” Paul utilizes an insider-outsider dichotomy in stressing that Islamic radicals have an agenda “against us as a people, as a Christian people.” Perhaps even more troubling in this sort of us-versus-them rhetoric is the idea that Muslims do not condemn such acts, claiming, “Where’s the rest of Islam? Why don’t they stand up and condemn this?” Muslims have not only condemned such acts of terror, but even published refutations of it based on Islamic religious doctrine.
Religion, Lately: Paganism by 2063, Living Happily Without Religion, and bin Laden Halloween Anxieties
By Kenny Smith…..What will Pagan religious traditions (such as Wicca, Druidism, and Asatru, among others) look like in fifty years, in 2063? Full-time Pagan clergy, Pagan celebrities coming out of the broom-closet, and a vast array of Pagan-centric media outlets, one writer predicts. Back here in 2013, new Pagan-themed books for children such as “What is Magic,” and “Who is a Witch?,” hit the shelves, Pagan Pride days continue to be celebrated in various cities nationwide, and Pagan communities prepare for Samhain.