Video of Panel Presentation on Religious Liberty

The Lanier Theological Library in Houston has posted a video of a panel on religious liberty that took place at the library earlier this month. Among other subjects, the panel addressed the rise of contemporary Islamism, the treatment of Christians in the Mideast, the prevalence of Islamic-law arbitration in Europe and the US, and the legality of American drone strikes on American citizens affiliated with Islamist groups. I participated in the panel, along with Mark Lanier (Founder, Lanier Theological Library), Dean Michael Simons (St. John’s), Professor James Hoffmeier (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), and Fr. Mario Arroyo (Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston). Take a look.

“Atheist Identities – Spaces and Social Contexts ” (Beaman & Tomlins, eds.)

In November, Springer releases “Atheist Identities – Spaces and Social Contexts ” edited by Lori G. Beaman (University of Ottawa) and Steven Tomlins (PhD candidate at University of Ottawa). The publisher’s description follows:

The essays in this book not only examine the variety of atheist expression and experience in the Western context, they also explore how local, national and international settings may contribute to the shaping of atheist identities. By addressing identity at these different levels, the book explores how individuals construct their own atheist—or non-religious—identity, how they construct community and how identity factors into atheist interaction at the social or institutional levels. The book offers an interdisciplinary comparative approach to the analysis of issues relating to atheism, such as demography, community engagement, gender politics, stigmatism and legal action. It covers such themes as: secularization; the social context of atheism in various Western countries; the shifting of atheist identities based on different cultural and national contexts; the role of atheism in multicultural settings; how the framework of “reasonable accommodation” applies to atheism; interactions and relationships between atheism and religion; and how atheism is represented for political and legal purposes. Featuring contributions by international scholars at the cutting edge of atheism studies, this volume offers unique insights into the relationship between atheism and identity. It will serve as a useful resource for academics, journalists, policy makers and readers interested in secular and religious studies, identity construction and identity politics as well as atheism in general.

Haeri, “Law of Desire: Temporary Marriage in Shi‘i Iran”

This month, Syracuse University Press releases a revised edition of “Law of Desire: Temporary Marriage in Shi‘i Iran”  by Shahla Haeri (Boston University). A description and review follow:

Law of Desire explores an institution in which sexuality, morality, religious rules, secular laws, and cultural practices converge. Drawing on rich interviews that would have been denied a Western anthropologist, Haeri describes the concept of a temporary marriage contract as it is practiced in Iran. This revised edition includes a postscript contextualizing this classic work within contemporary Iranian society.

Turner, “Religious Ideology and the Roots of Global Jihad”

This August, Palgrave Macmillan Publishing released “Religious Ideology and the Roots of Global Jihad: Salafi Jihadism and International Order” by John A. Turner.  The publisher’s description follows:

Religious Ideology and the Roots of Global JihadThe events of September 11, 2001 brought global attention to the significance of the Global Jihad. Many asked why the attack had occurred and numerous questions from all sectors of society emerged, in particular, why had they chosen to target the US and West in general?

This book explores the historical, social and ideological origins of the Global Jihad. It presents original conclusions and observations, moving beyond traditional narratives on Salafi Jihadism and the conceptual frameworks which have often resided in fixed temporal or geographical contexts. To understand the phenomenon of Salafi Jihadism, and by extension Jihadist organisations and the Global Jihad, an approach that takes account of religious ideology and historical understandings must be considered. This unique study will be a valuable resource to scholars of International Relations, Security Studies, the Middle East and Terrorism.

Mason, “Brigham Young”

This November, Routledge Press will release “Brigham Young: Sovereign in America” by David Vaughn Mason (Rhodes College, Tennessee).  The publisher’s description follows:

Brigham YoungBrigham Young was one of the most influential—and controversial—Mormon leaders in American history. An early follower of the new religion, he led the cross-continental migration of the Mormon people from Illinois to Utah, where he built a vast religious empire that was both revolutionary and authoritarian, radically different from yet informed by the existing culture of the U.S. With his powerful personality and sometimes paradoxical convictions, Young left an enduring stamp on both his church and the region, and his legacy remains active today.

In a lively, concise narrative bolstered by primary documents, and supplemented by a robust companion website, David Mason tells the dynamic story of Brigham Young, and in the process, illuminates the history of the LDS Church, religion in America, and the development of the American west. This book will be a vital resource for anyone seeking to understand the complex, uniquely American origins of a church that now counts over 15 million members worldwide.

On Old Age (and Ezekiel Emanuel)

In a much-discussed Atlantic essay, “Why I Hope to Die at 75,” Ezekiel Emanuel — physician, public commentator, and prominent supporter of the Affordable Care Act — argues that we’d all be better off if we died at 75. That way, we would escape the debility and indignity that accompany old age and avoid being burdens to our children and other loved ones. And we would have the solace of not outliving our productivity. After all, he writes, “by 75, creativity, originality, and productivity are pretty much gone for the vast, vast majority of us.” Emanuel has no plan to commit suicide if he reaches 75, he says. But he plans to reject all medical treatments, even routine ones, that go beyond the palliative.

220px-Cicero_-_Musei_Capitolini

He Knew

Emanuel rightly mocks “American immortals” who seem to believe they should (and maybe will!) live forever. And, in a culture like ours, which values youth and professional achievement virtually above everything else, his argument has a kind of plausibility. I’ve had 25 year-old students tell me they already feel over the hill. Why linger on into your eighties or nineties, when your best days and accomplishments are far behind you? Plus, society would save lots of money if people stopped seeking medical care at 75.

Nonetheless, there’s a serious flaw in Emanuel’s thinking. Strength, health, creativity — these are good things, but they are not the only things that give life meaning. From a Christian perspective, for example, the point of life is to express gratitude to and love for the Lord, and this we can do at any age. In the fullness of time, God will call each of us; until then, we have to try our best. There’s no point rushing Him.

Not everyone believes this, of course. But one needn’t be a Christian, or a religious believer of any kind, to appreciate that old age has some things to offer. “For old men who are reasonable and neither cross-grained nor churlish find old age tolerable enough: whereas unreason and churlishness cause uneasiness at every time of life,” said the pagan Cicero (above). And one needn’t be a religious believer to see that the elderly may still have much to contribute to us, even if they are weak, sick, and no longer able to write symphonies.

In a lovely response to Emanuel, my friend, John McGinnis, explains this, offering his own parents as an example. John does a much better job than I could, so I’ll just quote him:

But youth and good health do not measure humanity. Millions in diminished health enjoy life, being with their relatives, laughing at old movies, even just sitting in the breeze and sunshine. And their relatives and friends enjoy being with them. Indeed, they may find in the elderly’s struggle with aging an inspiration and a reaffirmation of life. In caring for the frail, weak and sometimes woebegone, they may also expand their own sympathies and express some small measure of gratitude for the debt of a good upbringing that can never be fully repaid.

That is certainly my experience watching my parents age well past 75. I have never admired my father more than when at the cusp of ninety he faces down his own infirmities and cares for my mother who has Parkinson’s disease. And although much is taken from my mother, much abides—her concern for others, her delight in reading new novels and rereading old ones. Emanuel argues that in seeing the decline of those we love, we may forget our happy memories of them in their years of vigor and achievement. But those memories do not need to summoned at particular times, because they infuse my being. In any event, the most valuable memories of all are not defined by physical wellbeing but by spirit and character. For so many people beyond 75 the forging of character continues and the power of their spirit at their end will instruct us by example at our own.

For one important thing, though, Emanuel is to be commended. Most of us do our best to ignore our mortality and the questions it raises about how we’re living our lives. As Pascal observed long ago, people will do pretty much anything to distract themselves and avoid thinking about it. That’s not wise; even a long life goes by so very fast. Every writer knows the benefits of deadlines: they force you to concentrate and get serious. Well, Emanuel says, he’s given himself a deadline.

Around the Web This Week

Some interesting law and religion news stories from around the web this week:

Bedzow & Broyde, “The Codification of Jewish Law and an Introduction to the Jurisprudence of the Mishna Berura”

In October, Academic Studies Press releases “The Codification of Jewish Law and an Introduction to the Jurisprudence of the Mishna Berura” by Ira Bedzow (Emory University graduate student) and Michael Broyde (Emory University). The publisher’s description follows:

The Codification of Jewish Law and an Introduction to the Jurisprudence of the Mishna Berura analyzes the jurisprudential methodology of Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan of Radin, the author of the Mishna Berura. It also provides an introduction to the codification of Jewish law and the methodology of codification more generally. The authors demonstrate that Rabbi Kagan had a unique approach in that he tried to balance opposing forces of tradition and modernity. He also attempted to provide definitive halakhic guidance to every question of Jewish law, based on four central questions and ten halakhic principles. After a comprehensive introduction, the authors provide 250 examples from the Mishna Berura to demonstrate their findings and to clarify their thesis in practical and clear terms.

“After Integration: Islam, Conviviality and Contentious Politics in Europe” (Burchardt & Michalowski, eds.)

In November, Springer releases “After Integration: Islam, Conviviality and bookContentious Politics in Europe” edited by Marian Burchardt (Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity in Göttingen) & Ines Michalowski (WZB Berlin Social Science Center). The publisher’s description follows:

The integration of Muslims into European societies is often seen as a major challenge that is yet to be confronted. This book, by contrast, starts from the observation that on legal, political and organizational levels integration has already taken place. It showcases the variety of theoretical approaches that scholars have developed to conceptualize Muslim life in Europe, and provides detailed empirical analysis of ten European countries. Demonstrating how Muslim life unfolds between conviviality and contentious politics, the contributors describe demographic developments, analyze legal controversies, and explore the action of government and state, Muslim communities and other civil society actors. Driving forces behind the integration of Islam are discussed in detail and compared across countries.

One More Word on Ted Cruz and Christians

Senator Ted Cruz responded yesterday to writers who criticized his needlessly provocative remarks at the recent In Defense of Christians Summit earlier this month. He suggested that his critics didn’t care about Christians — their real target was Israel. His evidence? None of his critics had ever expressed concern for Mideast Christians before:

Then, among one particular community, which is sort of the elite, intellectual Washington, D.C., crowd, there has been considerable criticism… A number of the critics, a number of the folks in the media have suggested, for example, that my saying what I did distracted from the plight of persecuted Christians.

What I find interesting is almost to a person, the people writing those columns have never or virtually never spoken of persecuted Christians in any other context. I have spoken literally hundreds of times all over the country. This is a passion. I’ve been on the Senate floor, and I intend to keep highlighting this persecution. I will say it does seem interesting that the only time at least some of these writers seem to care about persecuted Christians is when it furthers an anti-Israel narrative for them. That starts to suggest that maybe their motivation is not exactly what they’re saying.

For a man who claims a passion for the plight of Mideast Christians, he doesn’t seem to have followed public discussion of the subject. The writers to whom he alludes — Michael Dougherty, Ross Douthat, Rod Dreher, Mollie Hemingway, Matt Lewis, and, I guess, me (my criticism of him at the First Things site was the most widely-read and commented-upon post at the site last week) — have written plenty on the topic. First Things’s Matt Schmitz kindly posted a list of my own posts — 37 of them.

Within a few hours, Senator Cruz had apologized:

It was a mistake to suggest that critics of my remarks at IDC had not spoken out previously concerning the persecution of Christians; many of them have done so, often quite eloquently. It was not my intent to impugn anyone’s integrity, and I apologize to any columnists who took offense. The systematic murder of Christians in the Middle East is a horrible atrocity, and all of us should be united against it. Likewise we should speak with one voice against the persecution of Jews, usually being carried out by the very same jihadist radicals.

OK, I accept — although he still hasn’t apologized for lumping me in with the elite, intellectual, Beltway crowd. But it’s an ugly thing to insinuate bigotry in people who disagree with you, and, on this issue at least, Senator Cruz seems to make a habit of it. Nothing good can come from this, not for Mideast Christians, not for Israel, and not for Senator Cruz. I have an proposal. His critics will stop talking about Senator Cruz if he does. Is it a deal?