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Posts Tagged ‘Religion and Spirituality

That time of the year when we think and talk about religious matters

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Belly dance, by Brazilian dancers
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Last night, Xmas night, I was in a Chinese restaurant in Ganjingzi, a new and expanding neighborhood near the Dalian International Airport. I was the guest of Sherry Cai and Bin Qui, her husband. It seemed  like a normal Chinese dinner in an average to good area, lots of fresh seafood.

And then there was a sort of night club show with pretty girls doing a sort of belly dance routine, an MC who recognized the only Laowai in the restaurant, yours truly. I guess this was more evidence in these good times in China, that the Chinese enjoy parties and celebrations as much if not more than many other places I have lived.

So I am in an Xmas mood this morning and couldn’t help feeling touched by these thoughts written by Alan Wolfe in a review of an interesting book about the connection between religion and culture. Here is a telling excerpt from that review:

We are, in addition, witnessing the severing of religion from the cultures within which it was once embedded. Religion and culture have long existed in an uneasy embrace. Catholicism is presumably a universal faith, yet long before the reforms of Vatican II allowed Mass to be celebrated in the vernacular, Brazilian Catholicism owed as much to its South American roots as Polish Catholicism did to its Eastern European ones. Islam sought to conquer the world, or as much of it as it could, yet it was intimately connected to the Arab culture in which it was born. The only reason we do not find the term “secular Jew” puzzling is because we appreciate that Judaism is both an ethnic and a religious category. Much the same can be said for many of the other world religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism.

If religion is in decline in the modern world, Roy argues, so is culture. On the one hand, we have multiculturalism, celebrations of diversity that somehow wind up making all cultures look and feel alike. More important, we face globalization, today’s true universal faith, which subjects all local customs to the laws of the market. Under the influence of both, religion loses whatever affinities it may once have had with the cultures that sustained it. Jakarta, the capital of the world’s largest Muslim country, lies some 5,000 miles from the holy city of Mecca, and even Mecca, Roy argues, has lost much of its specifically Arab character.

I am a declared Agnostic about all  religion and especially about the intersection of religion and North American politics. Here the reviewer and the writer point out that religion begins in a cultural context but it tends to cool as its original cultural connection wanes and withers. Is that what happened to me? Did my cultural unrootedness lead to my Agnosticism? I think that could be the case.

In Dalian I am a Laowai but I don’t feel a strong cultural attachment to that connection, since most Laowai here seem to share a very shallow and uninteresting cultural view, at least here in Dalian. Oh, I can’t pretend to be Chinafied but I do enjoy my cultural connection with them better than I do the connection with Westerners. Maybe I just prefer to seem different because that’s what I have always felt in whatever city/community that I lived or worked in.

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A book arguing that Muslim immigrants are socially, culturally and intellectually inferior has sold more than a million copies.

I believe that Mr Sarrazin has a point and I sort of am happy to continue living in China where I can expect that sort of immigration issue will not arise!

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2010/11/15 at 06:48

Religious faith and what I believe!

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Cults and new religious movements in literatur...
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There are so many things I like about NY Times,  or maybe you haven’t noticed that it’s my main feed! This morning I found this nugget that reminds me of my non-religious beliefs and a sound reason for them.

Yes, I am an agnostic and that’s the position that most philosophers accept as the most tenable one for human bein’s. But I beg your indulgence and say that I am no philosopher, even with my agnostic thinking. Though it’s true that I like to philosophize.

Here’s the quote from this morning’s piece about philosophy:

In these popular debates about God’s existence, the winners are neither theists nor atheists, but agnostics — the neglected step-children of religious controversy, who rightly point out that neither side in the debate has made its case.   This is the position supported by the consensus of expert philosophical opinion.

So, I feel better in my conscious mind about my agnostic beliefs because the nonsense of an all powerful caring God Father in this universe of such immensity, violent beginnings and endings of star systems et al is just too obvious. I accept many of the moral teachings of Jesus, but God Incarnate, gimme a break!

Here’s the view of another agnostic who blogs at 3 Quarks:

Having recently spent two weeks in Cambridge (the one in the United Kingdom) on a Templeton-Cambridge Fellowship, being lectured to by believers and nonbelievers, I found myself feeling more than anything unconvinced by certainties on either side. And feeling the need for solidarity and identity with other doubters. Thus my call for a revivified agnosticism. Our T-shirt will read: I just don’t know.

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2010/08/01 at 15:27

A perceptive review of the Hitchens memoir

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Christopher Hitchens
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I read the whole piece in the London Review of Books after seeing the link in Ross Douthat’s NY Times column about the Hitchens memoir and persona.

Yes, I kind of like Christopher Hitchens and especially the person/journalist described by Runciman!

What’s not to like about a contrarian talker like Hitch? I like most of him and his contrarianess!

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Do homo sapiens have a religion gene?

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Tom Cruise December 2008
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It seems that homo sapiens in whatever national variety there is can accept and follow the dictates of the most hoary religions, like Scientology. How crazy can humans be (like Tom Cruise for example) to say that they follow and ascribe to the Religion of Scientology?

Surely they are nutty or barmy or batty or just  plain nuts! So what about the Indians who now apparently follow the religious dictates of Hubbard? See this link!

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More American culture from David Brooks

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David Brooks
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A little history, Jewish socio-biblical culture and Xmas. David Brooks does find a way to mix things and deliver a mildly moral story. This time it’s about the Jewish seasonal celebration of Hanukkah and here is the telling excerpt form today’s NY Times column:

Generations of Sunday school teachers have turned Hanukkah into the story of unified Jewish bravery against an anti-Semitic Hellenic empire. Settlers in the West Bank tell it as a story of how the Jewish hard-core defeated the corrupt, assimilated Jewish masses. Rabbis later added the lamp miracle to give God at least a bit part in the proceedings.

But there is no erasing the complex ironies of the events, the way progress, heroism and brutality weave through all sides. The Maccabees heroically preserved the Jewish faith. But there is no honest way to tell their story as a self-congratulatory morality tale. The lesson of Hanukkah is that even the struggles that saved a people are dappled with tragic irony, complexity and unattractive choices.

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2009/12/11 at 14:17

Pope says societies must have GOD!

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While the Dalai Lama was pursuing “peace” in Vancouver, Pope Benedict was advising Czechs, Poles et al:

In a meeting with religious leaders on Sunday, the pope emphasized that Europe had been deeply shaped by its Christian roots. Invoking his own background as an academic, he warned the Czech academic community against allowing a modern-day preoccupation with reason to cancel out faith.

“What will happen if our culture builds itself only on fashionable arguments, with little reference to a genuine historical intellectual tradition, or on the viewpoints that are most vociferously promoted and most heavily funded?” he asked.

Some young Christians said they felt alienated by a socially conservative pope, who appeared more intent on preserving the church’s traditions than on adapting it to modern times.

Daniel Barton, 25, a youth leader in the country’s largest Protestant denomination, argued that Benedict’s “moral absolutism” made him, in some ways, more conservative than Jesus.

“A pope’s visit should energize all Christians, but I find his social conservatism quite ridiculous,” he said. “The Vatican and this pope have been absolutizing the traditions of the past without thinking of the reasoning behind these rules, which is what Jesus was fighting against.”

Jan Richter contributed reporting from Brno, and Rachel Donadio from Rome.

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2009/09/28 at 07:17

Canadian Tory “principled actions”

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Tories give Dalai Lama a wide berth

The Dalai Lama, left, greets the crowd prior to a panel discussion with the Reverend Mpho Tutu, right, in Vancouver Sunday. The Dalai Lama is visiting Vancouver to take part in the World Peace Summit. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Canada’s high-profile welcome in 2007 enraged China, and Ottawa is still mending fences ahead of Harper’s visit to the People’s Republic

I personally find it difficult to understand the point of the Dalai Lama excitement in BC these days. On Saturday he was the Guest Editor of the Vancouver Sun. And apparently he is here on some kind of “Peace Summit”. He really appears to be more of a peace gadabout than summiteer.

But all the rich bourgeois in Vancouver seem to be very happy to pay his fare many times over.

The whole brouhaha smacks more of culture vultering than “peace”!

As for PM Harper, he is simply up to his old tricks of political peekeboo. Now he’s with the DL, now he’s not! Now China are tewwible communists, now their not so tewwible! So goes “Tory politics with Harper principles” in Canada!

The temporary discomfiture of the Canadian Govt is further demoed by this quote from the Globe and Mail:

Governor-General Michaëlle Jean had been scheduled to share the stage with the Dalai Lama yesterday, but abruptly cancelled her appearance last week.

Spokeswoman Marthe Blouin said the decision was prompted by family reasons and had nothing to do with political pressure, noting Ms. Jean intends to meet privately with the Dalai Lama on Tuesday.

“The Governor-General is free to make her own decisions … and does not need to have her schedule approved by the government,” Ms. Blouin said in an e-mail.

At the Chan Centre, sitting cross-legged and shoeless on a comfortable black chair, the Dalai Lama surprised his reverential audience at one point by admitting he was stumped by a question posed by moderator Mary Robinson. The former UN high commissioner for human rights asked him about the role of dignity in human rights.

Image by california cowgirl1 via Flickr
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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2009/09/28 at 05:19

Is there a “right way” to pray?

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A picture of Pisgah Baptist Church in Four Oak...
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My first inclination is that “the right way” is what the right wingers are all about and Pew Research surveys continue to offer us metrics about the pervasiveness of belief in a personal God and the practice of prayer in the US. I’m sure if they did their survey in Canada that the numbers for BC, Alberta, Sask and Manitoba would look the same as those in the US.

But the NY Times has this way of “printing “news” that is fit to print” do they have a magazine essay about learning how to pray in Brooklyn NY. Here’s an excerpt from that essay:

But I am in a small minority, at least in the United States. According to a recent study by the Pew Forum, 75 percent of Americans report that they pray at least once a week. Interestingly, only 39 percent attend a worship service once a week or more frequently. Steven Waldman, the editor in chief of, says he thinks this gap means prayer in America is becoming detached from traditional denominations. “In a way, prayer has become its own religion in this society,” he told me. “People pick and choose. They want to be their own spiritual contractors.” This tendency toward do-it-yourself spirituality affects every denomination. According to Waldman, there is a widespread phenomenon of Protestants burying plastic St. Josephs to help them sell their homes. Some Orthodox Jewish rabbis recommend the Lord’s Prayer as a pathway to spirituality. Jesuit retreats routinely incorporate Hindu and Buddhist techniques of meditation. And for those who can’t find what they want among the traditional brands, there are personal trainers known as spiritual directors.

Let me be clear about my own beliefs. I think prayer is childish and but it could have a significant Placebo Effect and that could be good, even for me! But let’s face it all this God talk is indulging in wide spread fantasies about “underlying truths”. So I’m willing to consider the benefit of the Placebo Effect, but fantasy is 99% bunkum and cant!

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Chris Hedges wrote “I don’t believe in Atheists”

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I was just browsing through author essays posted in the Powell Books web site and bumped into an essay by Chris Hedges discussing his thoughts about right wing Christians and New Atheists, like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Chris Hitchens.

I have spent a lot of time reading New Atheists and about them and  I have wondered about what I should or can believe. Since Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and spent a lot of time doing war journalism, especially in the Middle East, I feel that he has the mental and emotional wherewithal to say useful things about what’s wrong with belief systems in our Western society. Here is an excerpt from his essay that resonated for me:

These New Atheists and the Christian radicals they so resemble have built squalid little belief systems that are in the service of themselves and their own power. They urge us forward into a non-reality-based world, one where force and violence, where self-exaltation and blind nationalism go unquestioned and are considered good. They seek to make us afraid of what we do not know or understand. They use this fear to justify cruelty and war. They ask us to kneel before little idols that look and act like them, telling us that one day, if we trust enough in God or reason, we will have everything we desire.

I Don’t Believe in Atheists is a call to reject simplistic and utopian visions. It is a call to accept the severe limitations of being human. It is a call to face reality, a reality that in the coming decades is going to be bleak and difficult. Those who are blinded by utopian visions inevitably turn to force to make their impossible dreams and their noble ideals a reality. They believe the ends, no matter how barbaric, justify the means. Utopian ideologues, armed with the technology and mechanisms of industrial slaughter, have killed tens of millions of people over the last century. They ask us to inflict suffering and death in the name of virtue and truth. The New Atheists, in the end, offer us a new version of an old and dangerous faith. It is one we have seen before. It is one we must fight.

I often feel the “severe limitations of being human”. And I often feel the need to work through to a clearer sense of the reality of living and being a moral person versus being a religious person. I often feel that I must fight that “old and dangerous faith” based on dogmatic truths and beliefs about the higher morality of virtue in human affairs.

Chris Hedges
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