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The Origins of Easter

April 17th, 2011 No comments
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No doubt this time of year is celebrated by the vast majority of us, Christian or otherwise. While many who follow the teachings of Jesus Christ will be celebrating something sacred during the season, others will be indulging in a more commercial spin to this holy holiday.

I’m referring to the popular Easter egg hunts and giving of chocolate bunnies and spring themed gifts. So, what the heck does a giant bunny have to do with the death of a revered prophet? The below video courtesy of the History Channel does an adequate job of explaining the origins of Easter.

Clearly, whatever you call this week, a common theme is present. This time of year represents new life, rebirth, and fertility. From the resurrection of Jesus to images of bunnies (known for their high fertility) to baby chicks to eggs – it’s clear that we’re all celebrating life. One doesn’t need a book or ancient myths to realize the significance of the season. Merely taking a walk outside and observing the natural world in its splendour is evidence enough of the perfection of this time of year. That is all the reason I need to celebrate the season.

Happy Big-Easter-Bunny-Egg Day to you and yours! M. xo

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God is so… what?!?

March 14th, 2011 4 comments
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I struggled with whether to share this video via my blog because frankly I don’t think ignorance like this should be acknowledged; however, this is exactly the kind of cancerous commentary I have been blogging about that is infecting religious and spiritual dialogue.  Make no mistake, tamtampamela is clearly not representative of the majority of Christians.  She’s in the same category as the Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells of our society.  In my opinion (and I’m sure many others would agree), these apocalyptic doomsayers have perverted and distorted an ideology that for all intents and purposes was founded on love, compassion and community spirit.  I hardly think that Jesus had this kind of message in mind when he was prophesying  to his disciples.  Further, I find it unfathomable that any G-d, or creator, would destroy and cause the suffering of thousands of innocent souls merely to prove some sort of divine point, despite what might be written into many religious myths/legends.  Clearly, the woman has a pretty skewed vision of God – made all the more dangerous by a self-righteous ideology that has little to do with love, compassion or community spirit.

I realize that attempting any type of dialogue with this breed of religious fundamentalist is pointless, but this kind of fanaticism is exactly what is fueling the poisonous discussions that perpetuate ignorance and misunderstanding among different religious/non-religious adherents.  These discussions often escalate into verbal assaults and in some cases violent attacks on the “other” group.

And one final comment – let’s not start labeling this as a problem with the religion itself.  This kind of hatred isn’t indicative of the religion, but rather of an ignorant human being who clearly has a distorted view of what it actually means to be human.   It certainly ruffles my feathers when I come across this kind of unenlightened discourse, but more than anything it makes me very sad that one person can be so callous toward the plight of fellow human beings in a time of great tragedy.  Using the events in Japan as propaganda for a holy war is just inhumane…

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UmotTE-VlY

 

Source: YouTube

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Religion vs. Law – Revisited

March 8th, 2011 1 comment
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A few weeks ago I blogged about how religion and the law don’t always play so well together.  I meant to provide some follow up comments on this much sooner; however I became sidetracked with work, midterms and my other hobby – painting.  Now that I’ve provided sufficient enough explanation for denying you – my adoring readers – your weekly peck of squawky goodness, I’ll move forward with a promise not to make promises about when I’ll post next.  That being said, I promise to post at some point in the future – always 😉

I have many thoughts on the subject of law and religion.  So many that I think this is going to be an ongoing conversation.  Where I’d like to start is on the subject of polygamy.  There’s been a lot of debate in the last year about whether polygamy should be legal or whether it violates the institution of marriage as between one man and one woman.  This sounds awfully familiar to me.

I appreciate that many religions hold that marriage is a sacrament; however I don’t believe it’s fair to attest that marriage is exclusively a religious institution.  Sure, it may have been that way long ago when society was essentially bound by religious notions; but I’d like to believe that we’ve evolved as a society.  We are no longer bound by a single religious ideology – at least those of us fortunate to live in “free” (more on this later) societies.  Plenty of non-religious people marry.

If anything, marriage has become a government institution.  It allows two people to be intertwined such that they reap financial and legal benefits of being married.  In some countries, two people don’t even have to be legally married to enjoy the same benefits that those who sign the paperwork do.   Merely living together, as a couple, for a prescribed length of time allows for reaping some of the advantages that legal marriage does.  So, if marriage really isn’t a religious institution the idea of any faith holding exclusivity over it falls flat.

Where does this leave polygamy?  Is there anything fundamentally wrong with plural marriage?  There are arguments that women and young girls are exploited, but I fail to see how this is mutually exclusive to plural marriage.  Wouldn’t more protection be afforded to those women and girls who may be being exploited by plural marriage if it were somehow legislated like more traditional marriages?  As it stands now, a woman who is in a plural marriage and not legally married has little in the way of protection should she choose to leave that marriage.  Through making plural marriage a legally accepted practice, I believe we’d be making it more transparent and thus actually protect more people.

Truthfully, this conversation could go on at great length.  I’ll leave it here for now, so you can digest it.  Often those things that are unusual or unfamiliar to us make us uncomfortable.  I think we’ve got to break out of our bubbles and realize that there’s a bigger world that doesn’t necessarily conform to the nice little confines of our bubble.  It’s time to burst out and start seeking out grander truths.

I’ll close with comments from My Dad that sum up rather nicely how I feel about these matters we’ve been discussing:  “Marriage is a man made institution created by religion to support it. I say marry whom ever you want, pray as you choose to. Protect childhood at all cost, stand up for what you feel and try to keep an open mind”. So glad to have a Dad that taught me to burst out from my bubble and experience a grander world.

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Fore… the love of G-d

February 28th, 2011 No comments
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With the snow beginning to melt and the promise of warmer temperatures and green grass beckoning, I’m reminded of a Sunday ritual in my family. No, it’s not Sunday service at the local church, but it’s something that bares a remarkable similarity to that ritual activity. The ritual of Sunday golf among the men of my family has steadily become entrenched in our collective consciousness. As such, whenever my husband and I make a trip back home during the warmer months, we know it will culminate in Sunday golfing.  Given that golf season is almost upon us and that last week one of my friends made a comment about how these posts hurt his head, and couldn’t we just talk about the Leafs’ trades — I thought I’d compromise with a post about sports as religion.

My family’s Sunday golf ritual begins with a quorum of usually four men booking a tee time for the morning. There’s a bit of unease if the quorum of four isn’t found – seems four is the sacred number; however, the game still goes on with two, three or even five. Where else can you find a quorum for ritual? The Jewish minyan is the requirement of ten adult males for special prayers and rituals. In fact, numbers seem to play an important part in many religions:  twelve apostles, ninety-nine most beautiful names of God, five elements, etc.

Special attire is a must for the Sunday golf ritual. All the men dress in khakis and golf shirts, and some don special golfing hats. Many religions also have specialized attire for specific ritual, prayer or meetings. In Judaism, there’s the tallit, a Jewish prayer shawl; the tefillin, small, black, leather boxes containing verses from the Torah (first part of the Hebrew Bible) that are strapped on the forehead and forearm; and the kippah. Practically every religion has some sort of ritual clothing that is used in worship, and sometimes everyday life. There’s also widespread practice in Christian communities of donning your Sunday best for congregation. Some religious attire can also appear quite unusual to the outsider and this is also true of some sports fans outfits, as these funny sports fanatic photos will attest too. So, evidently both religion and sports make use of specialized attire to enhance the ritual experience.

The metaphor of sports as religion is also paralleled when you examine other elements such as congregants of fans versus congregants of worshippers. There isn’t much difference between worship and fanaticism, given that they both clearly revolve around revering something or someone deemed worthy. Sports stars are often seen as outside the realm of the ordinary, and the same can be said about saints, prophets and other notable religious figures. What about the church/temple/house of worship and the stadium/arena/field? Clearly, devotees of both religion and sport find something sacred or special at these places. Here the community is brought together for participation in the rites that bind them.

Arguably, the binding of a community is central to both religion and sports. People are loyal to their faith and loyal to their teams. This binding works to not only bring the respective communities together, but also to create division from those outside the community. Just as a Christian may never truly understand the Hindu world view; a Leafs fan is just as unlikely to comprehend the loyalty of a Habs fan.

While the men in my family may be in search of a hole in one, instead of the holy grail – it’s worth noting that maybe the two aren’t so different.  Clearly, both groups are brought together in a ritualistic form, to bond with their respective communities, uplift their spirits, and share in an experience that may not be completely understood by outsiders.

Whether you choose to shout praise at the tee with a resounding “Fore!,” or pronounce praise at the pew with an emphatic “Amen!,” may the spirit of your community bind you together in joy.

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Religion vs. Law

February 19th, 2011 No comments
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Religion and the law seem to frequently collide. In secular societies, religion is supposed to be separate from the law. Law is meant to provide everyone in society with certain guarantees and protections, including the freedom of religion. So, there’s the rub. What do we do when freedom of religion directly contravenes the law of the land?

There are numerous headlines that attest to this delicate balance. Recently, a group of Muslim immigrants petitioned a Manitoba board of education to remove their children from music and co-ed physical education classes. Last week, the Quebec legislature banned Sikhs from wearing a kirpan (ceremonial dagger) in the legislature. A private member’s bill has been put forth that would require Muslim women to unveil before voting. Arguably the biggest tango between religion and the law currently in Canada is the case regarding the polygamous sect in Bountiful, BC. A hearing is underway to determine whether Canada’s 1890 anti-polygamy law violates freedom of religion.

Clearly, the protection of citizens must be paramount for the legal system to be purposeful; however, what does that protection entail? If a fringe group of minority Muslims want to remove their children from certain classes, should they be allowed? Is it any different than allowing Catholic parents to remove their children from sexual education classes? How is the anonymity of veiled women voting different than the many Canadians who mail their votes in or show up to the polls without photo identification? Why have we suddenly decided that after years of allowing Sikhs to wear the kirpan in the legislature to suddenly change it? Is it the widespread suspicion of any religion that doesn’t posses a specific Judeo-Christian ideology? If three or more consenting adults want to marry, should they legally have the right? Clearly, the exploitation of minors should be rigorously investigated and persecuted; however, are child exploitation and polygamy unequivocally mutually exclusive? In our secular society, can marriage even be defined as exclusively religious?

I have a lot of thoughts concerning these topics, which I’ll share in next week’s Incubation follow-up post. For now, I’d like to hear from you.

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Sacred Exemption Revisited

February 19th, 2011 3 comments
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Last week I posted some questions on whether religion should be exempt from critique and satirical commentary. My Facebook status update generated some interesting comments. The overall consensus was, yes, religion is fair game for critique, satire and debate. Now in all fairness, I suspect that most of the discussion was generated by folks who are not part of some organized religion. I’d be curious to hear from those who are members of a specific religion.

There were two discussion points that I found particularly poignant. The first was the idea that both the staunchly religious AND non-religious could be equally hostile and stubborn when defending their beliefs. Each side seemingly claims to know a certain truth and will unabashedly vocalize to the other side the folly and error of thinking otherwise.

The second was that there needs to be discussion/debate surrounding religion, especially in light of growing multi-faith societies and ever increasing global connectivity. As a religious scholar, I’ve visited many Web sites of both a religious and secular nature and the comment boards are often the most insightful sections of the site. If many of the comments are an indication of the state of religious discussion in mainstream society, then we’ve got a lot of work to do. Clearly, there are some huge misconceptions and sweeping generalizations that are poisoning these discussions.

As Rabbi Adam Jacobs summed up in his An Open Letter to the Atheist Community “We still have a lot to discuss. Let’s do it with a caring heart, and open mind and a spirit of appreciation for our shared humanity”.

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The Rapture Index

February 18th, 2011 No comments
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Wondering how soon the rapture might occur? Need help in identifying that the end times may be upon us? The Rapture Index is the self-proclaimed “prophetic speedometer of end-time activity”. Forty-five components make up the index, each scored according to an activity level. There’s the usual end-times activities you’d expect: plagues, droughts, and satanism (apparently downgraded due to lack of activity). Less expected are categories such as climate and oil supply/price. For the unenlightened, be sure to check out the THE RAPTURE INDEX CATEGORIES EXPLAINED.

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Sacred Exemption?

February 12th, 2011 2 comments
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I was always told to avoid talk of religion.  It seems that most people avoid the topic, as if lightening were going to strike them. Clearly, religion creates some huge divides among us. You’d expect, given that we’re a “civilized society”, we’d be able to engage in discussion about those things that make us different.  Groups coming together to discuss their differences often find that they have a lot more in common than what separates them.

What’s my point?  I think we need to have these discussions – not debates – discussions.  Let’s leave the debates out of it because that inherently implies that a side aims for victory.  Discussions give us an opportunity to understand another perspective, even if we don’t necessarily agree with it.  New understandings can only serve to make us wiser.

So, I ask:  Should the sacred and holy be exempt from critical engagement?  What about satirical commentary?

Here’s some ideas to think about:
– Is there a difference between critique and satire? Is it okay to question religion, but not mock it?
– Can we really talk about offending or challenging a specific religion when within each religious tradition there is much diversity among its adherents?
– Is criticism of belief any different than criticism of non-belief?
– Are we able to draw a line around what is open for critical engagement concerning religion – and if so, is that line arbitrary?

And if that wasn’t enough, I’ve added some images below to really get those gears grinding. Seems the religious debate is alive and well on the highways and streets…

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